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The Bite Club: comparative bite force in big biting mammals


4 April 2005

Dr Wroe with skulls
Dr Wroe with skulls

Carnivores kill with powerful bites delivered by formidable jaws, but bite force has been unknown for most predators.

In a paper just out in the prestigious British journal, Proceedings of the Royal Society, Proceedings B, two Australian scientists Stephen Wroe of the University of Sydney and Colin McHenry from the University of Newcastle, derive the first estimates for a wide range of mammalian carnivores.

Among living mammalian carnivores, including the likes of lions, tigers and bears, for its size, our Tasmanian devil has the highest bite force. Another Australian, the extinct marsupial lion, takes the prize for all-time biggest biter.

The researchers found that relatively high bite forces were associated with taking big prey in living species, suggesting that the techniques they used could shed light on the killing behaviour of fossil animals. For example, it is clear that the marsupial lion could have taken prey far larger than itself.

The Tasmanian tiger also had a very powerful bite when compared to placental wolves of the same size and was theoretically capable of taking quite big animals.

Their methods could also be useful for predicting the outcomes of reintroducing species such as the Tasmanian devil to the mainland. In a surprising twist it was also found that, for its size, bite force was not exceptional in the bone cracking spotted-hyaena and relatively weak in the notorious sabre-toothed tiger, Smilodon fatalis.

Further details:

Dr Stephen Wroe,
0425 330 273

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Andrew Potter,
Media Manager,
University Of Sydney,
02 9351 4514