The Therapsids

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Gorgonopsid  Gnashers  —  the Gorgon's  Sabre-Toothed  Bite

A hungry pack of Scylacops ('puppy face'!  skull 21cm) demonstrate the gorgonopsid's nip-and- swallow technique. The gorgonopsids didn't chew like a mammal. Instead, they gulped down the largest gobbet of meat manageable. Then, gorgonopsids staggered away for a snooze while their digestive juices started the lengthy process of breaking down their largely unmasticated meal.

Modern meat-eating reptiles use simple feeding techniques,  simply biting, then tearing along the dotted line. But, because of  those huge canine teeth, the gorgonopsids needed to be capable of biting in two totally different ways.  For a killing bite, sabre-like canine teeth were slammed home creating deep wounds. (To deal with damage from hitting bone, canines were regularly replaced.)

Gorgonopsid feeding bites used only the small front teeth.  These teeth did not simply puncture while feeding. Instead, the animal shifted its entire lower jaw forward while biting. The upper and lower front teeth 'interdigitated'  –  sliding between one another,  their serrated edges scissoring long, continuous slashes in meat and hide (or scraping the final remnents of meat from the bone).

A gang of the large gorgonopsid predators, Scylacops bigendens, engaged in their favourite activity – top right
Gorgonopsid jaw-opening muscles should be compared with their dinocephalian equivalents.  In both, a fan of muscle (light yellow) extends rearward from the jaw to the shoulders and neck. But, in gorgonopsids, the function of these muscles is reversed – the relative position of the gorgon jaw hinge has turned a jaw-closer into a powerful jaw-opener.  The gorgonopsid's main jaw-opening muscle (dark yellow) attaches to a lever-like extension of the jaw behind the hinge. In gorgons, this bone extension also turned downward which increased the effective pull of this muscle and allowing for that fearsome 90° gape. Gorgon jaw-closing muscles (blue/green/red) were divided into distinct segments – each pulling at slightly different angles.  Each segment, acting in turn, maintained the power stroke needed to drive those huge canines into prey.

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