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The Serrated Teeth of Tyrannosaurid Dinosaurs, and Biting Structures in Other Animals

William L. Abler
Paleobiology
Vol. 18, No. 2 (Spring, 1992), pp. 161-183
Published by: Paleontological Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2400997
Page Count: 23
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The Serrated Teeth of Tyrannosaurid Dinosaurs, and Biting Structures in Other Animals
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Abstract

The function of serrated teeth is analyzed by experimental comparison with the action of artificially made steel blades. Serrated blades cut compliant materials with a grip-and-rip mechanism, whereas smooth, sharp blades cut by concentrating a large downward force on a tiny area. Tyrannosaurid teeth from the Cretaceous Judith River Formation bear rows of serrations that have thick, rounded enamel caps, gripping slots between neighboring serrations, thick enamel bodies inside the teeth underneath the gripping slots, and a root beneath each serration. In contrast, the carnivorous dinosaur Troodon has teeth with exposed pointed serrations, thin enamel, and possibly serration roots. Serrations on the teeth of Troodon and the fossil shark Carcharodon, cut compliant materials in the same way as a serrated hacksaw blade. In contrast, the cutting action of tyrannosaurid teeth most closely resembles that of a dull smooth blade. The spaces between the serrations act as minute frictional vises that grip and hold meat fibers; chambers between neighboring serrations receive and retain small fragments of meat, and inevitably would have acted as havens where bacteria could be stored. These spaces may therefore have led to infections in wounds, analogous to those inflicted by the living Komodo dragon or ora. By analogy, the hunting and feeding behavior of tyrannosaurs may have resembled that of the ora. Serrations and slots are widely distributed among cutting devices in the natural world, and many of these deserve further study. For example, the carnassial teeth of mammalian carnivores cut by a combination of static force at the cutting edge, a crushing or scissoring action at the advancing junction between upper and lower teeth, and by lateral gripping and compression in a slot, like that seen on a much smaller scale in tyrannosaurid serrations. Mammalian teeth operate well only when deployed with sophisticated control over jaw movement, however, and the fine neural control necessary to operate them may have formed the basis for the later development of intelligence in mammals. Previously, being interested in mammals was largely a matter of being interested in teeth, whereas being interested in reptiles was largely a matter of being interested in everything but teeth. I suggest that the teeth of at least some reptiles are as rich in information as the teeth of any mammals.

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