Sunday, 29 April 2012

Lowly Rat Gnaws & Chews to Top of the Rodent World

Rats and their close relatives, including mice, make up nearly a quarter of known mammal species. New research offers a clue to these rodents' success: their bite.

Rodents have evolved two feeding modes, gnawing with their incisors and chewing with their molars farther back in their mouths. However, they cannot do both at the same time.

Some, such as squirrels and beavers, have specialized in gnawing. Others, such as guinea pigs and porcupines, have specialized in chewing. Others, a group called myomorphs that includes rats and mice, have taken the middle road by staying flexible and adapted to doing both at different times.

To find out whether rats could out-bite other rodents, a team of scientists from the United Kingdom, France and Japan, used computer models to simulate the bites of rodents. They also wanted to find out whether it was the rat's skull shape or its jaw muscles that gave it an extraordinary bite; so they created virtual animals with characteristics from different biters, such as a rat skull with squirrel muscles.

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