Durophagous biting in sea otters (Enhydra lutris) differs kinematically from raptorial biting of other marine mammals. Academic Article uri icon


  • Sea otters represent an interesting model for studies of mammalian feeding evolution. Although they are marine mammals, sea otters returned to the sea relatively recently and feed at the surface. Therefore, they represent a transitional stage of aquatic adaptation. Currently no feeding performance studies of sea otters have been conducted. The main objective of this study was to characterize the feeding kinematic profile in sea otters. It was hypothesized that sea otters would exhibit a terrestrial feeding behavior and that they forcefully crush hard prey at large gapes. As a result, biting kinematics would be congruent with biting behavior reported for their terrestrial ancestors, thus providing additional evidence that raptorial biting is a conserved behavior even in recently aquatic mammals. Sea otters consistently used a durophagous raptorial biting mode characterized by large gapes, large gape angles and lack of lateral gape occlusion. The shorter skulls and mandibles of sea otters, along with increased mechanical advantages of the masseter and increased bite force, form a repertoire of functional traits for durophagy. Here we consider durophagy to be a specialized raptorial biting feeding mode. A comparison of feeding kinematics of wild versus captive sea otters showed no significant differences in lateral kinematic profiles, and only minor differences in three frontal kinematic profiles, which included a slower maximum opening gape velocity, a slower maximum gape opening velocity, and a slower maximum closing gape velocity in captive sea otters. Data indicate functional innovations for producing large bite forces at wide gape and gape angles.

published proceedings

  • J Exp Biol

altmetric score

  • 8.95

author list (cited authors)

  • Timm-Davis, L. L., Davis, R. W., & Marshall, C. D.

citation count

  • 7

complete list of authors

  • Timm-Davis, Lori L||Davis, Randall W||Marshall, Christopher D

publication date

  • December 2017