Caecilians (Lissamphibia: Gymnophiona) are characterized by a fossorial lifestyle that appears to play a role in the many anatomical specializations in the group. The skull, in particular, has been the focus of previous studies because it is driven into the substrate for burrowing. There are two different types of skulls in caecilians: (1) stegokrotaphic, where the squamosal completely covers the temporal region and the jaw closing muscles, and (2) zygokrotaphic, with incomplete coverage of the temporal region by the squamosal. We used 3-D imaging and modeling techniques to explore the functional consequences of these skull types in an evolutionary context. We digitally converted stegokrotaphic skulls into zygokrotaphic skulls and vice versa. We also generated a third, akinetic skull type that was presumably present in extinct caecilian ancestors. We explored the benefits and costs of the different skull types under frontal loading at different head angles with finite element analysis (FEA). Surprisingly, the differences in stress distributions and bending between the three tested skull types were minimal and not significant. This suggests that the open temporal region in zygokrotaphic skulls does not lead to poorer performance during burrowing. However, the results of the FEA suggest a strong relationship between the head angle and skull performance, implying there is an optimal head angle during burrowing.

, , , ,
Journal of Experimental Biology
Department of Earth Sciences

Kleinteich, T. (Thomas), Maddin, H, Herzen, J. (Julia), Beckmann, F. (Felix), & Summers, A.P. (Adam P.). (2012). Is solid always best? Cranial performance in solid and fenestrated caecilian skulls. Journal of Experimental Biology, 215(5), 833–844. doi:10.1242/jeb.065979