Researchers from two universities have successfully recreated an accurate three-dimensional model of the American alligator skull.
Studying the origins and movement of animals often requires the presence of live animals. However, this is not always possible (in the case of extinct species), safe or practical. In such cases, scientists now have another option: developing three-dimensional models of the animal.
This is what the researchers at the University of Missouri (MU) and the University of Southern Indiana have done. Using cutting-edge imaging and computational tools, they have developed three-dimensional models of the skull of the American alligator.
"Collecting bite data from live animals like alligators can be pretty dangerous and potentially deadly, so accurate 3-D models are the best way for biomechanists, veterinarians, and paleontologists interested in the function and evolution of these amazing animals to study them," said Casey M Holliday, associate professor of pathology and anatomical sciences in the MU School of Medicine.
The models can also be used to analyze the bite forces of extinct species like the Cretaceous crocodile Deinosuchus.
To develop the models, the team first reported naturalistic, three-dimensional computational modeling of the jaw muscles that produce forces within the alligator's skull to better understand how bite forces change during its growth. They then compared their findings to previously reported bite forces collected from live alligators.
"Our models stand out because we're the first to distribute loads of their huge muscles across their attachment surfaces on the alligator skull. This lets us better understand how muscle forces and bite forces impact the skull," said Kaleb Sellers, a doctoral student in Professor Holliday's lab.