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Feeding Behavior in Free-Ranging, Large African Carnivores

Blaire Van Valkenburgh
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2307/1382725 240-254 First published online: 16 February 1996


Carnivores exhibit a diverse array of teeth, including peg-like incisors, elongate canines, blade-like carnassials, and rounded, bunodont molars, all of which are presumed to be adapted for particular functions, such as slicing flesh or cracking bones. The validity of these presumed correlations between form and function was explored in a field study of feeding behavior in four sympatric species of free-ranging African carnivores; African lion (Panthera led), cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus), spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta), and wild dog (Lycaon pictus). Based on videotapes of feeding behavior on carcasses of ungulates, the associations among use of teeth, motion of jaw, action of neck, use of paws, and type of food were compiled. There were significant interactions between use of teeth and type of food, and use of teeth and action of neck, in all species. Skin tended to be cut with the carnassials in association with a slight pull, whereas muscle was more likely to be pulled from the carcass by the incisors. Bones usually were cracked with the premolars in hyenas and the postcarnassial molars in wild dogs. Repeated chewing motions were most common in all species when eating the toughest foods, i.e., skin or muscle in combination with bone. The association between use of teeth and type of food was not perfect; sometimes skin was cut with incisors and bones were cracked with carnassials. This apparent lack of precision in use of teeth suggests that selection will likely favor specializations for particular functions in teeth other than those that are the primary tools for that purpose.

Key words
  • feeding behavior
  • dental function
  • Carnivora
  • Africa
  • Panther a leo
  • Acinonyx jubatus
  • Crocuta crocuta
  • Lycaon pictus