Comparative and developmental functional morphology of the jaws of living and fossil gars (Actinopterygii: Lepisosteidae). Academic Article uri icon


  • The feeding mechanism of gars (Ginglymodi : Lepisosteidae) is characterized by cranial elevation and lower jaw rotation but minimal cranial kinesis. Gar jaws have numerous, sharply pointed, elongate teeth for capture of evasive prey. Their mandibles range from relatively short to extremely long depending on the species. Jaw length and lever dimensions were hypothesized to affect the biomechanics of force and motion during feeding, according to simple mechanical models of muscles exerting force through first- or third-order levers. A morphometric protocol was used to measure the jaw structure of seven living and five fossil species of gar and these data were used to calculate the mechanical advantage (a measure of force transmission) for both opening and closing of the mandible. Gars were found to possess low mechanical advantage (MA) and high transmission of motion, although gars occupy a range of biomechanical states across the continuum of force vs. velocity transmission. The long-nose gar, Lepisosteus osseus, has one of the lowest jaw closing MAs (0.05) ever measured in fishes. Intraspecific lever mechanics were also calculated for a developmental series (from feeding larvae to adults) of L. osseus and Atractosteus spatula. A characteristic ontogenetic curve in MA of the lower jaw was obtained, with a large decrease in MA between larva and juvenile, followed by a steady increase during adult growth. This curve correlates with a change in prey type, with the small, robust-jawed individuals feeding mainly on crustaceans and insects and the large, long-jawed individuals of all species becoming mainly piscivorous. Principal components analysis of functionally important morphometrics shows that several gar species occupy different regions of functional morphospace. Some fossil gar species are also placed within functional morphospace using this approach.

publication date

  • September 2006