Abstract

Mesozoic tooth marks on bone surfaces directly link consumers to fossil assemblage formation. Striated tooth marks are believed to form by theropod denticle contact, and attempts have been made to identify theropod consumers by comparing these striations with denticle widths of contemporaneous taxa. The purpose of this study is to test whether ziphodont theropod consumer characteristics can be accurately identified from striated tooth marks on fossil surfaces. We had three major objectives (1) to experimentally produce striated tooth marks and explain how they form; (2) to determine whether body size characteristics are reflected in denticle widths; and (3) to determine whether denticle characters are accurately transcribed onto bone surfaces in the form of striated tooth marks. We conducted controlled feeding trials with the dental analogue Varanus komodoensis (the Komodo monitor). Goat (Capra hircus) carcasses were introduced to captive, isolated individuals. Striated tooth marks were then identified, and striation width, number, and degree of convergence were recorded for each. Denticle widths and tooth/body size characters were taken from photographs and published accounts of both theropod and V. komodoensis skeletal material, and regressions were compared among and between the two groups. Striated marks tend to be regularly striated with a variable degree of branching, and may co-occur with scores. Striation morphology directly reflects contact between the mesial carina and bone surfaces during the rostral reorientation when defleshing. Denticle width is influenced primarily by tooth size, and correlates well with body size, displaying negative allometry in both groups regardless of taxon or position. When compared, striation widths fall within or below the range of denticle widths extrapolated for similar-sized V. komodoensis individuals. Striation width is directly influenced by the orientation of the carina during feeding, and may underestimate but cannot overestimate denticle width. Although body size can theoretically be estimated solely by a striated tooth mark under ideal circumstances, many caveats should be considered. These include the influence of negative allometry across taxa and throughout ontogeny, the existence of theropods with extreme denticle widths, and the potential for striations to underestimate denticle widths. This method may be useful under specific circumstances, especially for establishing a lower limit body size for potential consumers.

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