Oviraptorosaurians are an unusual and probably herbivorous group of theropod dinosaurs that evolved pneumatised crania with robust, toothless jaws, apparently adapted for producing a strong bite. Using 3D retrodeformed skull models of oviraptorid oviraptorosaurians Citipati, Khaan, and Conchoraptor, along with the earliest diverging oviraptorosaurian, Incisivosaurus, we digitally reconstruct jaw adductor musculature and estimate bite force to investigate cranial function in each species. We model muscle length change during jaw opening to constrain optimal and maximum gape angles. Results demonstrate oviraptorids were capable of much stronger bite forces than herbivorous theropods among Ornithomimosauria and Therizinosauria, relative to body mass and absolutely. Increased bite forces in oviraptorid oviraptorosaurians compared to the earliest diverging oviraptorosaurian result from expanded muscular space and different cranial geometry, not changes in muscular arrangement. Estimated optimal and maximum possible gapes are much smaller than published estimates for carnivorous theropods, being more similar to the herbivorous therizinosaurian theropod Erlikosaurus and modern birds. Restrictive gape and high bite force may represent adaptation towards exploiting tough vegetation, suggesting cranial function and dietary habits differed between oviraptorids and other herbivorous theropods. Differences in the relative strength of jaw adductor muscles between co-occurring oviraptorids may be a factor in niche partitioning, alongside body size.
Bibliographical note© 2022. The Author(s).
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