The interpretive power of infraorbital foramen area in making dietary inferences in extant apes

Magdalena N. Muchlinski, Andrew S. Deane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The infraorbital foramen (IOF) is located below the orbit and transmits the sensory infraorbital nerve (ION) to mechanoreceptors located throughout the maxillary region. The size of the IOF correlates with the size of the ION; thus, the IOF appears to indicate relative touch sensitivity of maxillary region. In primates, IOF size correlates well with diet. Frugivores have relatively larger IOFs than folivores or insectivores because fruit handling/processing requires increased touch sensitivity. However, it is unknown if the IOF can be used to detect subtle dietary differences among closely related hominoid species. Hominoids are traditionally grouped into broad dietary categories, despite the fact that hominoid diets are remarkably diverse. This study examines whether relative IOF size is capable of differentiating among the dietary preferences of closely related species with overlapping, yet divergent diets. We measured IOF area in Hylobates lar, Symphalangus syndactulus, Pongo pygmaeus spp., Pan troglodytes, Gorilla gorilla, Gorilla beringei graueri, and Gorilla beringei beringei. We classified each species as a dedicated folivore, mixed folivore/frugivore, soft object frugivore, or hard object frugivore. The IOF is documented to be larger in more frugivorous species and smaller in more folivorous taxa. Interestingly, G.b. beringei, had the largest relative IOF of any gorilla, despite being a dedicated folivore. G.b. beringei does have unique food processing behavior that relies heavily on maxillary mechanoreception, thus this finding is not entirely unsupported behaviorally. The results of this study provide evidence that the IOF is an informative feature in interpretations of fossil apes. Anat Rec, 297:1377-1384, 2014.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1377-1384
Number of pages8
JournalAnatomical Record
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Ecology
  • Functional morphology
  • Mechanoreception
  • Primates


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