Canine and incisor microwear in pitheciids and Ateles reflects documented patterns of tooth use

Lucas K. Delezene, Mark F. Teaford, Peter S. Ungar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Objectives: Platyrrhine species differ in the extent to and the manner in which they use their incisors and canines during food ingestion. For example, Ateles uses its anterior teeth to process mechanically nondemanding soft fruits, while the sclerocarp-harvesting pitheciids rely extensively on these teeth to acquire and process more demanding foods. Pitheciids themselves vary in anterior tooth use, with the pitheciines (Cacajao, Chiropotes, and Pithecia) noted to use their robust canines in a variety of ways to predate seeds, while Callicebus, which rarely predates seeds, uses its incisors and exceptionally short canines to scrape tough mesocarp from fruits. To investigate the relationship between tooth use and dental wear, microwear textures were investigated for the anterior teeth of these five genera of platyrrhine primates. Methods: Using a white light confocal microscope, 12 microwear texture attributes that reflect feature size, anisotropy, density, and complexity were recorded from high-resolution epoxy casts of the incisors and canines of adult wild-collected Brazilian specimens of Ateles, Callicebus, Cacajao, Chiropotes, and Pithecia. Results: Pitheciine canines tend to have deep microwear features and complex, anisotropic microwear textures, while Ateles anterior teeth tend to have very small features, low feature density, and less complex and anisotropic surfaces. Callicebus incisor and canine microwear is generally intermediate in size and complexity between those extremes. Conclusions: These findings align with expectations from reported field observations of tooth use and illustrate the potential for using microwear texture analysis to infer patterns of anterior tooth use in extinct primates. Am J Phys Anthropol 161:6–25, 2016.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6-25
Number of pages20
JournalAmerican journal of physical anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016


  • Callicebus
  • Chiropotes
  • Pithecia
  • sclerocarp
  • seed predation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anatomy
  • Anthropology


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