Forensic odontology: Assessing bite wounds to determine the role of teeth in piscivorous fishes

Muruga, Pooventhran, Bellwood, David R., and Mihalitsis, Michalis (2022) Forensic odontology: Assessing bite wounds to determine the role of teeth in piscivorous fishes. Integrative Organismal Biology, 4 (1). obac011.

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Teeth facilitate the acquisition and processing of food in most vertebrates. However, relatively little is known about the functions of the diverse tooth morphologies observed in fishes. Piscivorous fishes (fish-eating fish) are crucial in shaping community structure and rely on their oral teeth to capture and/or process prey. However, how teeth are utilized in capturing and/or processing prey remains unclear. Most studies have determined the function of teeth by assessing morphological traits. The behavior during feeding, however, is seldom quantified. Here, we describe the function of teeth within piscivorous fishes by considering how morphological and behavioral traits interact during prey capture and processing. This was achieved through aquarium-based performance experiments, where prey fish were fed to 12 species of piscivorous fishes. Building on techniques in forensic odontology, we incorporate a novel approach to quantify and categorize bite damage on prey fish that were extracted from the piscivore’s stomachs immediately after being ingested. We then assess the significance of morphological and behavioral traits in determining the extent and severity of damage inflicted on prey fish. Results show that engulfing piscivores capture their prey whole and head-first. Grabbing piscivores capture prey tail-first using their teeth, process them using multiple headshakes and bites, before spitting them out, and then re-capturing prey head-first for ingestion. Prey from engulfers sustained minimal damage, whereas prey from grabbers sustained significant damage to the epaxial musculature. Within grabbers, headshakes were significantly associated with more severe damage categories. Headshaking behavior damages the locomotive muscles of prey, presumably to prevent escape. Compared to non-pharyngognaths, pharyngognath piscivores inflict significantly greater damage to prey. Overall, when present, oral jaw teeth appear to be crucial for both prey capture and processing (immobilization) in piscivorous fishes.

Item ID: 74676
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2517-4843
Copyright Information: © The Author(s) 2022. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Funders: Australian Research Council (ARC)
Projects and Grants: ARC FL190100062, ARC CE140100020
Date Deposited: 14 Jun 2022 03:52
FoR Codes: 31 BIOLOGICAL SCIENCES > 3103 Ecology > 310305 Marine and estuarine ecology (incl. marine ichthyology) @ 100%
SEO Codes: 28 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 2801 Expanding knowledge > 280102 Expanding knowledge in the biological sciences @ 100%
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