Do sharks exhibit heterodonty by tooth position and over ontogeny? A comparison using elliptic Fourier analysis. Academic Article uri icon


  • Tooth morphology is often used to inform the feeding ecology of an organism as these structures are important to procure and process dietary resources. In sharks, differences in morphology may facilitate the capture and handling of prey with different physical properties. However, few studies have investigated differences in tooth morphology over ontogeny, throughout the jaws of a single species, or among species at multiple tooth positions. Bull (Carcharhinus leucas), blacktip (Carcharhinus limbatus), and bonnethead sharks (Sphyrna tiburo) are coastal predators that exhibit ontogenetic dietary shifts, but differ in their feeding ecologies. This study measured tooth morphology at six positions along the upper and lower jaws of each species using elliptic Fourier analysis to make comparisons within and among species over their ontogeny. Significant ontogenetic differences were detected at four of the six tooth positions in bull sharks, but only the posterior position on the lower jaw appeared to exhibit a functionally relevant shift in morphology. No ontogenetic changes in morphology were detected in blacktip or bonnethead sharks. Intraspecific comparisons found that most tooth positions significantly differed from one another across all species, but heterodonty was greatest in bull sharks. Additionally, interspecific comparisons found differences among all species at each tooth position except between bull and blacktip sharks at two positions. These morphological patterns within and among species may have implications for prey handling efficiency, as well as in providing insight for paleoichthyology studies and reevaluating heterodonty in sharks.

published proceedings

  • J Morphol

altmetric score

  • 16.5

author list (cited authors)

  • Cullen, J. A., & Marshall, C. D.

citation count

  • 17

complete list of authors

  • Cullen, Joshua A||Marshall, Christopher D

publication date

  • May 2019