In the arms race between hard-shelled prey and their predators, most of the work to date has focused on the prey: how shelled organisms protect themselves from predation. For this paper, we take the predators’ point of view– asking the question why are crushing teeth shaped the way they are? One problem with investigating how predators crush prey is that the shells of prey, even animals of the same size, can have very different material properties. To get around this, we used 3D printer to create our prey items, which allowed us to eliminate variation due to natural history, while retaining all of the internal and external anatomy of the shells.
By measuring the force different canonical tooth shapes needed to break these 3D printed prey items, we found that flat and cupped teeth aren’t as good at breaking hard prey as rounder teeth, and that when it comes to crushing, the pointier the tooth, the better. This suggests a trade-off in function, since pointed teeth are also at a greater risk of being broken by the prey.
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