Myological variability in a decoupled skeletal system: batoid cranial anatomy

J Morphol. 2014 Aug;275(8):862-81. doi: 10.1002/jmor.20263. Epub 2014 Mar 21.


Chondrichthyans (sharks, batoids, and chimaeras) have simple feeding mechanisms owing to their relatively few cranial skeletal elements. However, the indirect association of the jaws to the cranium (euhyostylic jaw suspension) has resulted in myriad cranial muscle rearrangements of both the hyoid and mandibular elements. We examined the cranial musculature of an abbreviated phylogenetic representation of batoid fishes, including skates, guitarfishes and with a particular focus on stingrays. We identified homologous muscle groups across these taxa and describe changes in gross morphology across developmental and functional muscle groups, with the goal of exploring how decoupling of the jaws from the skull has effected muscular arrangement. In particular, we focus on the cranial anatomy of durophagous and nondurophagous batoids, as the former display marked differences in morphology compared to the latter. Durophagous stingrays are characterized by hypertrophied jaw adductors, reliance on pennate versus fusiform muscle fiber architecture, tendinous rather than aponeurotic muscle insertions, and an overall reduction in mandibular kinesis. Nondurophagous stingrays have muscles that rely on aponeurotic insertions onto the skeletal structure, and display musculoskeletal specialization for jaw protrusion and independent lower jaw kinesis, relative to durophagous stingrays. We find that among extant chondrichthyans, considerable variation exists in the hyoid and mandibular muscles, slightly less so in hypaxial muscles, whereas branchial muscles are overwhelmingly conserved. As chondrichthyans occupy a position sister to all other living gnathostomes, our understanding of the structure and function of early vertebrate feeding systems rests heavily on understanding chondrichthyan cranial anatomy. Our findings highlight the incredible variation in muscular complexity across chondrichthyans in general and batoids in particular.

Keywords: Myliobatidae; batoid; durophagy; gnathostome; jaw suspension.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Hyoid Bone / anatomy & histology
  • Jaw / anatomy & histology*
  • Male
  • Mandible / anatomy & histology
  • Muscle, Skeletal / anatomy & histology*
  • Phylogeny
  • Sharks / anatomy & histology*
  • Skates, Fish / anatomy & histology*
  • Species Specificity