Feeding mechanics and dietary implications in the fossil sloth Neocnus (Mammalia: Xenarthra: Megalonychidae) from Haiti

J Morphol. 2011 Oct;272(10):1204-16. doi: 10.1002/jmor.10976. Epub 2011 Jun 2.


Haitian species of the extinct ground sloth genus Neocnus (Mammalia: Pilosa: Megalonychidae) have previously been hypothesized to have a much reduced jugal bone and a correspondingly reduced masseter musculature but a paucity of specimens has prevented further investigation of this hypothesis. Recent discovery of jugal bones belonging to Haitian specimens of Neocnus within the University of Florida Museum collections enables the element to be more accurately described. The discovery also makes it possible to explore mastication in these sloths. Osteological characters related to feeding were examined, along with comparative estimations of bite force with the extant tree sloths, Bradypus and Choloepus, and their known dietary habits as a means to infer aspects of the paleodiet of Neocnus. There is a significant difference in moment arm calculations for m. masseter between predicted and actual jugals, but the overall significance for bite force is lost and hampered by small sample size. Neocnus demonstrates a variety of characters that are similar to those of Bradypus and not to Choloepus, which is a close phylogenetic relative. The masticatory musculature of Neocnus enabled a chewing cycle emphasizing a grinding combination of mesiodistal and linguobuccal movements of the molariform dentition. The orientations of m. masseter and m. temporalis are estimated to produce relatively high bite force ratios that imply a masticatory system with stronger versus faster components. Because of the similarity of bite forces and jaw mechanics to those of Bradypus, in addition to a number of osteological adaptations indicative of herbivorous grazers (elevated mandibular condyle, large and complex masseter, and robust angular process), the Haitian forms of Neocnus are considered to have been selective feeders with a folivorous diet.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bite Force*
  • Diet*
  • Fossils
  • Haiti
  • Jaw / physiology
  • Masseter Muscle / physiology
  • Mastication / physiology*
  • Sloths / physiology*
  • Temporal Muscle / physiology
  • Tooth
  • Zygoma / physiology*