The functional morphology of the anterior masticatory apparatus in tree-gouging marmosets (cebidae, primates)

Russell T. Hogg, Matthew J. Ravosa, Timothy M. Ryan, Christopher J. Vinyard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Although all genera of Callitrichinae feed on tree exudates, marmosets (Callithrix and Cebuella) use specialized anterior teeth to gouge holes in trees and actively stimulate exudate flow. Behavioral studies demonstrate that marmosets use large jaw gapes but do not appear to generate large bite forces (relative to maximal ability) during gouging. Nonetheless, the anterior teeth of marmosets likely experience different loads during gouging compared to nongouging platyrrhines. We use histological data from sectioned teeth, μCTs of jaws and teeth, and in vitro tests of symphyseal strength to compare the anterior masticatory apparatus in Callithrix to nongouging tamarins (Saguinus) and other cebids. We test the hypotheses that (1) marmoset anterior teeth are adapted to accommodate relatively high stresses linked to dissipating gouging forces and (2) the mandibular symphysis does not provide increased load resistance ability compared with closely related nongouging platyrrhines. Differences in decussation between Callithrix and Saguinus are greatest in the anterior teeth, suggesting an increased load resistance ability specifically in incisor and canine enamel of Callithrix. Callithrix lower incisor crowns are labiolingually thicker suggesting increased bending resistance in this plane and improved wedging ability compared with Saguinus. Anterior tooth roots are larger relative to symphyseal bone volume in Callithrix. Anterior tooth root surface areas also are larger in marmosets for their symphyseal volume, but it remains unclear whether this relative increase is an adaptation for dissipating dental stresses versus a growth-related byproduct of relatively elongated incisors. Finally, simulated jaw loading suggests a reduced ability to withstand external forces in the Callithrix symphysis. The contrast between increased load resistance ability in the anterior dentition versus relatively reduced symphyseal strength (1) suggests a complex loading environment during gouging, (2) highlights the possibility of distinct loading patterns in the anterior teeth versus the symphysis, and (3) points to a potential mosaic pattern of dentofacial adaptations to tree gouging.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)833-849
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Morphology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Developmental Biology


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