Send to

Choose Destination
J R Soc Interface. 2014 Jan 15;11(92):20131053. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2013.1053. Print 2014 Mar 6.

How to best smash a snail: the effect of tooth shape on crushing load.

Author information

Department of Biology, University of Washington, , Seattle, WA 98195-1800, USA.


Organisms that are durophagous, hard prey consumers, have a diversity of tooth forms. To determine why we see this variation, we tested whether some tooth forms break shells better than others. We measured the force needed with three series of aluminium tooth models, which varied in concavity and the morphology of a stress concentrating cusp, to break a shell. We created functionally identical copies of two intertidal snail shells: the thicker shelled Nucella ostrina and the more ornamented Nucella lamellosa using a three-dimensional printer. In this way, we reduced variation in material properties between test shells, allowing us to test only the interaction of the experimental teeth with the two shell morphologies. We found that for all tooth shapes, thicker shells are harder to break than the thinner shells and that increased ornamentation has no discernible effect. Our results show that for both shell morphologies, domed and flat teeth break shells better than cupped teeth, and teeth with tall or skinny cusps break shells best. While our results indicate that there is an ideal tooth form for shell breaking, we do not see this shape in nature. This suggests a probable trade-off between tooth function and the structural integrity of the tooth.


biomechanics; durophagy; rapid prototyping; shell failure; tooth morphology

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center