The great white shark’s flesh-tearing teeth get all the glory for the predator’s ferocity. But new research suggests there’s much more finesse under the hood to explain a shark’s bite.
It turns out the arrangement of their jaw muscles lets great white sharks maintain loads of bite force no matter how wide their mouths are open—mammals, like us, can’t do that.
The study also suggests that only adult great whites can take advantage of this full biting power. While teenage great whites might have the power to chomp down on an adult-size meal, their jaws wouldn’t stand up to the stresses generated.
“This unique jaw muscle arrangement in sharks will open many questions to its role in the feeding behavior of other shark species and how they have evolved a range of successful feeding strategies,” said lead researcher Toni Ferrara, a doctoral student at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
The findings are detailed in the Journal of Biomechanics.
Shark biologists typically look at a shark’s teeth to figure out what the predator eats. For instance, “great whites have broad, triangular-shaped teeth that act like a saw, while sandtigers have needle shaped teeth that grab and puncture prey,” Ferrara told LiveScience.
The researchers used computer simulations to get a closer look at the feeding behaviors of two shark species—the harmless grey nurse shark (also called the sandtiger) and a sub-adult great white shark.