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Teeth adapted to changing environments: great apes


Great apes teeth / Valerie Abbo.. / LicenseCC-by-nd - Attribution No Derivatives

The teeth of great apes help them survive times of food scarcity because they are diverse in type and material characteristics, allowing consumption of fallback foods.

"The teeth of some apes are formed primarily to handle the most stressful times when food is scarce, according to new research performed at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). The findings imply that if humanity is serious about protecting its close evolutionary cousins, the food apes eat during these tough periods—and where they find it—must be included in conservation efforts

"[N]atural selection in three ape species has favored individuals whose teeth can most easily handle the 'fallback foods' they choose when their preferred fare is less available. All of these apes—gorillas, orangutans and chimpanzees—favor a diet of fruit whenever possible. But when fruit disappears from their usual foraging grounds, each species responds in a different way—and has developed teeth formed to reflect the differences." (EurekAlert! 2009)
"Lucas and colleagues recently proposed a model based on fracture and deformation concepts to describe how mammalian tooth enamel may be adapted to the mechanical demands of diet (Lucas et al.: Bioessays 30 2008 374-385). Here we review the applicability of that model by examining existing data on the food mechanical properties and enamel morphology of great apes (Pan, Pongo, and Gorilla). Particular attention is paid to whether the consumption of fallback foods is likely to play a key role in influencing great ape enamel morphology. Our results suggest that this is indeed the case. We also consider the implications of this conclusion on the evolution of the dentition of extinct hominins." (Constantino et al. 2009:653)
About the inspiring organism
Gorilla gorilla (Savage and Wyman, 1847)

Learn more at
Some organism data provided by: ITIS: The Integrated Taxonomic Information System
Organism/taxonomy data provided by:
Species 2000 & ITIS Catalogue of Life: 2008 Annual Checklist

Threat Categories LONG_CR IUCN Red List Status: Critically Endangered

Bioinspired products and application ideas

Application Ideas: Maintaining a diversity of strategies to be resilient to changes in resources available and to exploit different resources than your competitors in times of scarcity.

Industrial Sector(s) interested in this strategy: Business

Anthropology Department
Paul Constantino
George Washington University
2009. Among apes, teeth are made for the toughest times. EurekAlert! [Internet],
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Constantino PJ; Lucas PW; Lee JJ; Lawn BR. 2009. The influence of fallback foods on great ape tooth enamel. Am J Phys Anthropol. 140(4): 653-60.
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