Canine tooth strength and killing behaviour in large carnivores

B. Van Valkenburgh, C. B. Ruff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

169 Scopus citations


Bending strength of upper canine teeth is examined among living canids, felids, hyaenids and several extinct species including sabretooth cats, borophagine dogs and the dire wolf, Canis dirus. The tooth is modelled as a cantilever with an elliptical cross‐section. Using beam theory, the bending strength of the upper canine is calculated given a constant force applied to the canine tip. Results indicate that felids and hyaenids have relatively stronger canines than canids, particularly in bending about the anteroposterior (AP) rather than the mediolateral axis. It is suggested that canine shape reflects the forces produced during killing and feeding. As shown by an analysis of jaw muscle moment arms, felids and hyaenids have relatively stronger bites than canids. Moreover, the canines of hyaenids and felids are perhaps more likely to contact bone during feeding and killing and consequently may be subjected to larger and more frequent bending moments about the AP axis. The canines of sabretooth cats are shown to be more similar in shape and strength characteristics to those of living canids than felids, whereas those of the borophagine dogs and the dire wolf are closer to modern hyaenas.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)379-397
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Zoology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 1987

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Animal Science and Zoology


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