U.S. researchers have developed three-dimensional models of the skull of the American alligator using cutting-edge imaging and computational tools.
The ability to bite hard is critical for crocodilians to eat their food such as turtles, wildebeest and other large prey. Therefore, their anatomy is closely studied by veterinarians and paleontologists who are interested in animal movements and anatomy, researchers at the University of Missouri and the University of Southern Indiana said in a recent press release.
These models also can assist scientists in studying the origins and movements of extinct species and other animals.
According to the new study, recently published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, researchers use three-dimensionally accurate anatomical data to resolve 3D muscle forces.
Using dissection, imaging, and computational techniques, the team developed lever and finite element models of an ontogenetic series of alligators to test the effects of size and shape on cranial loading and compared estimated bite forces to those previously measured in vivo in Alligator mississippiensis.
Researchers validated their simulations using previously reported bite-force data to prove their accuracy.
"Collecting bite data from live animals like alligators can be pretty dangerous and potentially deadly, so accurate 3-D models are the best way for biomechanists, veterinarians, and paleontologists interested in the function and evolution of these amazing animals to study them," Casey M. Holliday, associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences in the MU School of Medicine, said in a statement.
"It is impossible to analyze the bite forces in extinct hard-biting species like the giant Cretaceous crocodile Deinosuchus, or the famous bone-crunching dinosaur Tyrannosaurus rex, so precise models are imperative when studying extinct species," Holliday said.
These new methods and findings pave the way for better understanding the 3-D biomechanical environment, development and evolution of the skull of not only alligators, but other crocodilians, birds, dinosaurs and other vertebrates, Holliday said.