Finite-element analysis of biting behavior and bone stress in the facial skeletons of bats

Anat Rec A Discov Mol Cell Evol Biol. 2005 Apr;283(2):319-30. doi: 10.1002/ar.a.20165.


The wide range of dietary niches filled by modern mammals is reflected in morphological diversity of the feeding apparatus. Despite volumes of data on the biomechanics of feeding, the extent to which the shape of mammal skulls reflects stresses generated by feeding is still unknown. In addition to the feeding apparatus, the skull accommodates the structural needs of the sensory systems and brain. We turned to bats as a model system for separating optimization for masticatory loads from optimization for other functions. Because the energetic cost of flight increases with body mass, it is reasonable to suggest that bats have experienced selective pressure over evolutionary time to minimize mass. Therefore, the skulls of bats are likely to be optimized to meet functional demands. We investigate the hypothesis that there is a biomechanical link between biting style and craniofacial morphology by combining biting behavior and bite force data gathered in the field with finite-element (FE) analysis. Our FE experiments compared patterns of stress in the craniofacial skeletons within and between two species of bats (Artibeus jamaicensis and Cynopterus brachyotis) under routine and atypical loading conditions. For both species, routine loading produced low stresses in most of the skull. However, the skull of Artibeus was most resistant to loads applied via its typical biting style, suggesting a mechanical link between routine loading and skull form. The same was not true of Cynopterus, where factors other than feeding appear to have had a more significant impact on craniofacial morphology.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bite Force*
  • Chiroptera / anatomy & histology
  • Chiroptera / physiology*
  • Diet
  • Finite Element Analysis*
  • Fruit
  • Mastication / physiology*
  • Skull / anatomy & histology
  • Skull / physiology*
  • Species Specificity
  • Weight-Bearing / physiology*