Carnassial Microwear and Dietary Behaviour in Large Carnivorans

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This paper presents the first analysis of dental microwear textures of carnivorans. Carnassial microwear is examined for three large carnivorans, the cheetah Acinonyx jubatus, African lion Panthera leo and spotted hyaena Crocuta crocuta using dental microwear texture analysis, which combines confocal microscopy with the study of scale-sensitive fractal geometry. Results indicate significant differences in the microscopic wear textures of these carnivores consistent with dissimilarities in their reported feeding behaviours. Acinonyx jubatus carnassial shearing facets are characterized by low surface texture complexity and high anisotropy, while P. leo and C. crocuta evince less wear texture anisotropy and more complexity. Panthera leo and C. crocuta have more heavily pitted surfaces, a wider size range of wear features and scratches that vary in their orientations relative to the long axis of the carnassial blade. Further, C. crocuta is most variable in overall surface complexity and also has the highest average complexity values. These results are consistent with differences in bone consumption rates among the three species, wherein cheetahs typically avoid bone, lions triturate it on occasion and spotted hyaenas comminute it more often. Incidences of bone consumption in carnivores reflect degree and/or type of carcass utilization and can be used as a general guide for niche partitioning. Thus, the application of microwear analyses to carnivores can be used to interpret competition and niche position within a guild of fossil carnivores across space and through time.