Tooth reorientation affects tooth function during prey processing and tooth ontogeny in the lesser electric ray, Narcine brasiliensis

Zoology (Jena). 2008;111(2):123-34. doi: 10.1016/j.zool.2007.05.004. Epub 2008 Jan 28.


The dental anatomy of elasmobranch fishes (sharks, rays and relatives) creates a functional system that is more dynamic than that of mammalian dentition. Continuous dental replacement (where new teeth are moved rostrally to replace older ones) and indirect fibrous attachment of the dentition to the jaw allow teeth to reorient relative to the jaw over both long- and short-term scales, respectively. In this study, we examine the processing behavior and dental anatomy of the lesser electric ray Narcine brasiliensis (Olfers, 1831) to illustrate that the freedom of movement of elasmobranch dentition allows a functional flexibility that can be important for complex prey processing behaviors. From static manipulations of dissected jaws and observations of feeding events in live animals, we show that the teeth rotate during jaw protrusion, resulting in a secondary grasping mechanism that likely serves to hold prey while the buccal cavity is flushed free of sediment. The function of teeth is not always readily apparent from morphology; in addition to short-term reorientation, the long-term dental reorientation during replacement allows a given tooth to serve multiple functions during tooth ontogeny. Unlike teeth inside the mouth, the cusps of external teeth (on the portion of the tooth pad that extends past the occlusal plane) lay flat, such that the labial faces act as a functional battering surface, protecting the jaws during prey excavation.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Eating / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Jaw / anatomy & histology
  • Jaw / physiology
  • Mouth / anatomy & histology
  • Mouth / physiology
  • Phylogeny
  • Tooth / anatomy & histology*
  • Tooth / physiology*
  • Torpedo / anatomy & histology*
  • Torpedo / physiology*