This article reports the use of simple beam and finite-element models to investigate the relationship between rostral shape and biomechanical performance in living crocodilians under a range of loading conditions. Load cases corresponded to simple biting, lateral head shaking, and twist feeding behaviors. The six specimens were chosen to reflect, as far as possible, the full range of rostral shape in living crocodilians: a juvenile Caiman crocodilus, subadult Alligator mississippiensis and Crocodylus johnstoni, and adult Caiman crocodilus, Melanosuchus niger, and Paleosuchus palpebrosus. The simple beam models were generated using morphometric landmarks from each specimen. Three of the finite-element models, the A. mississippiensis, juvenile Caiman crocodilus, and the Crocodylus johnstoni, were based on CT scan data from respective specimens, but these data were not available for the other models and so these - the adult Caiman crocodilus, M. niger, and P. palpebrosus - were generated by morphing the juvenile Caiman crocodilus mesh with reference to three-dimensional linear distance measured from specimens. Comparison of the mechanical performance of the six finite-element models essentially matched results of the simple beam models: relatively tall skulls performed best under vertical loading and tall and wide skulls performed best under torsional loading. The widely held assumption that the platyrostral (dorsoventrally flattened) crocodilian skull is optimized for torsional loading was not supported by either simple beam theory models or finite-element modeling. Rather than being purely optimized against loads encountered while subduing and processing food, the shape of the crocodilian rostrum may be significantly affected by the hydrodynamic constraints of catching agile aquatic prey. This observation has important implications for our understanding of biomechanics in crocodilians and other aquatic reptiles.
Anatomical Record Part A: Discoveries in Molecular Cellular and Evolutionary Biology Vol. 288A, Issue 8, p. 827-849