A model of digestive tooth corrosion in lizards: experimental tests and taphonomic implications

Krister T. Smith*, Orr Comay, Lutz Maul, Fabio Wegmüller, Jean Marie Le Tensorer, Tamar Dayan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Corrosion patterns induced by gastric fluids on the skeleton of prey animals may depend on the nature of the corrosive agents (acid, enzymes) as well as on the composition of the hard parts and the soft tissues that surround them. We propose a framework for predicting and interpreting corrosion patterns on lizard teeth, our model system, drawing on the different digestive pathways of avian and non-avian vertebrate predators. We propose that high-acid, low-enzyme systems (embodied by mammalian carnivores) will lead to corrosion of the tooth crowns, whereas low-acid, high-enzyme systems (embodied by owls) will lead to corrosion of the tooth shafts. We test our model experimentally using artificial gastric fluids (with HCl and pepsin) and feeding experiments, and phenomenologically using wild-collected owl pellets with lizard remains. Finding an association between the predictions and the experimental results, we then examine corrosion patterns on nearly 900 fossil lizard jaws. Given an appropriate phylogenetic background, our focus on physiological rather than taxonomic classes of predators allows the extension of the approach into Deep Time.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12877
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


FundersFunder number
Senckenberg Research Institute
National Science FoundationDEB 0508796
Deutsche ForschungsgemeinschaftUT 41/4-1
Tel Aviv University


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