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Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc. 2008 Feb;83(1):35-69. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-185X.2007.00031.x.

A quantitative analysis of the Eutherian orbit: correlations with masticatory apparatus.

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  • 1University Museum of Zoology, Downing Street, Cambridge, CB2 3EJ, UK.


The mammalian orbit, or eye-socket, is a highly plastic region of the skull. It comprises between seven and nine bones, all of which vary widely in their contribution to this region among the different mammalian orders and families. It is hypothesised that the structure of the mammalian orbit is principally influenced by the forces generated by the jaw-closing musculature. In order to quantify the orbit, fourteen linear, angular and area measurements were taken from 84 species of placental mammals using a Microscribe-3D digitiser. The results were then analysed using principal components analysis. The results of the multivariate analysis on untransformed data showed a clear division of the mammalian taxa into temporalis-dominant forms and masseter-dominant forms. This correlation between orbital structure and masticatory musculature was reinforced by results from the size-corrected data, which showed a separation of the taxa into the three specialised feeding types proposed by Turnbull (1970): i.e. 'carnivore-shear', 'ungulate-grinding' and 'rodent-gnawing'. Moreover, within the rodents there was a clear distinction between species in which the masseter is highly developed and those in which the temporalis has more prominence. These results were reinforced by analysis of variance which showed significant differences in the relative orbital areas of certain bones between temporalis-dominant and masseter-dominant taxa. Subsequent cluster analysis suggested that most of the variables could be grouped into three assemblages: those associated with the length of the rostrum; those associated with the width of the skull; and those associated with the relative size of the orbit and the shape of the face. However, the relative area of the palatine bone showed weak correlations with the other variables and did not fit into any group. Overall the relative area of the palatine was most closely correlated with feeding type, and this measure that appeared to be most strongly associated with the arrangement of the masticatory musculature. These results give a strong indication that, although orbital structure is in part determined by the relative size and orientation of the orbits, the forces generated by the muscles of mastication also have a large effect.

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