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Turtles with “teeth”: beak morphology of Testudines with a focus on the tomiodonts of Painted Turtles (Chrysemys spp.)

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Abstract

Testudines demonstrate a range of beak morphologies that can be categorized into five basic forms: smooth, notched, monocuspid, bicuspid, and tricuspid. Species with a bicuspid or tricuspid premaxilla bear upper jaw notches bordered on each side by tooth-like cusps called tomiodonts. These conspicuous and rather unique “teeth” are detailed in the early species’ descriptions made by eminent naturalists and zoologists, including Holbrook, Harlan, De Kay, and Agassiz, among others. For 190 years, tomiodonts have been used as a descriptor in testudine morphology, systematics, and natural history. The objective of this paper is to provide an historical synthesis of the literature on testudine anterior skull and beak morphology with an emphasis on tomiodont structure and putative function. We explore tomiodont morphology and dimorphism in Testudines and focus on a relatively well-studied species, the Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta). We also introduce observations of putative sexual dimorphisms in tomiodonts and crania of C. picta from a long-term study in Algonquin Provincial Park (Ontario, Canada). We speculate on the functional significance and evolutionary explanation(s) responsible for the tomiodont morphology of Testudines. Lastly, we suggest the standardized adoption of the term “tomiodont” in morphological nomenclature and provide directions for future research on tomiodonts.

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Acknowledgments

The authors wish to thank MG Keevil, JL Riley, and DL LeGros for discussion and ideas on the enigmatic tomiodonts. We thank two anonymous reviewers whose comments improved the manuscript. We also wish to thank the Algonquin Wildlife Research Station and Ontario Parks for support of the long-term turtle studies in Algonquin Provincial Park. The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC Discovery Grants to RJB and JDL), Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, and Ontario Parks. Additional support was provided by the Society for the Study of Amphibians and Reptiles, Canadian Herpetological Society, Ruffed Grouse Society, and the Sudbury Game and Fish Protective Association.

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Correspondence to Jacqueline D. Litzgus.

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Communicated by A. Schmidt-Rhaesa.

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Moldowan, P.D., Brooks, R.J. & Litzgus, J.D. Turtles with “teeth”: beak morphology of Testudines with a focus on the tomiodonts of Painted Turtles (Chrysemys spp.). Zoomorphology 135, 121–135 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00435-015-0288-1

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