The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

Mammalian faunivores: prey, foraging, and microwear


Department of Biological Sciences, Marsahll University

Saturday 10:45-11:00, Galleria South Add to calendar

Faunivorous and insectivorous mammals eat an extensive array of food items that vary substantially in their physical properties and offer different foraging challenges. Therefore, it is not surprising there are equally diverse adaptations for feeding on them including two morphological extremes. Small-bodied primate, bat, insectivoran, and marsupial insectivores tend to hunt and feed primarily on individual coleopterans, lepidopterans, and orthopterans. Morphologically they have elongate shearing crests and high dental complexity values relative to frugivores. On the other extreme are the myrmecophagous mammals from many mammalian orders that have evolved to prey upon on colonial insects (hymenopterans). These animals have convergently evolved reduced dentitions and dentaries.

Although extant great apes and humans consume insects and related prey, they do not demonstrate either of these typical faunivorous morphotypes. Given this, conventional analyses of dental morphology or jaw mechanics based on the comparative method will not work for dietary reconstruction of fossil hominins. An alternative is explored here. Dental microwear data suggest that small-bodied faunivorous mammals (include primates, insectivorans, and bats) tend to have greater feature densities than either frugivorous or folivorous primates. Dental microwear analyses on the only myrmecophagous mammals that have retained both teeth and enamel, the aardwolf and sloth bear, suggest that these foods are not masticated sufficiently to cause distinctive microwear features. These data on a diversity of modern mammals indicate that it may be possible to detect only certain forms of insectivory in early hominins based on dental microwear.

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