Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Biology (Integrative Biology)

Major Professor

Stephen M. Deban


Bite Force, Cryptobranchus alleganiensis, Scaling, Static equilibrium, Suction feeding, Suction Index


The hellbender (Cryptobranchus alleganiensis) is a salamander that grows over a large range of body sizes (2-74 cm total length) making it an ideal organism for examining the effects of body size on morphology and performance. The goal of this study is to investigate the morphology changes over ontogeny and change in

feeding ability. Cryptobranchus feeds on small aquatic insects as juveniles and shifts to crayfish as they get larger. Morphology can be expected to change as an organism grows larger, and because morphology and performance are closely linked, this morphological change can result in a change in feeding ability.

Cryptobranchus alleganiensis are primarily aquatic salamanders that utilize both suction feeding and biting behaviors. I hypothesize bite force would increase with positive allometry reflecting a possible dietary shift during ontogeny in which larger Cryptobranchus favor crayfish. Because suction is the primary mode of feeding making it an important aspect of feeding throughout ontogeny, suction index was hypothesized to scale with isometry. Fourteen preserved specimens (11.9-34.5 cm SVL) were used to investigate the effects of scaling on suction potential and estimated bite force. Bite force was calculated using a 3D static equilibrium model and suction potential was calculated as suction index. Bite force scaled with positive allometry allowing the animals to bite harder relative to body mass with increasing body size, and suction index showed no effect of body size. Results of this study indicate that Cryptobranchus alleganiensis maintains suction performance across ontogeny allowing them to generate suction with similar ability ontogenetically, but increases its biting performance to cope with durophagous prey with a possible ontogenetic dietary shift.

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