Postcanine tooth size in female primates

Larry R. Cochard*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


The results of many allometric studies of postcanine tooth size in mammals have not corresponded to expectations of tooth size based on energy requirements and dental function. The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship between postcanine occlusal surface area, body size, and the metabolic demands of pregnancy and lactation in female primates. Tooth and body sizes from 38 primate species were taken from the literature to test two hypotheses: (1) females should have relatively larger teeth than males in order to masticate additional food for the energetic costs of reproduction; (2) taxa with the largest neonatal size (a measure of average metabolic costs of pregnancy and lactation) should have females with a greater degree of relative dental enlargement. The results show that relatively large female teeth are not found consistently in primate species. Females have less occlusal surface area than expected on the basis of the male tooth and body size regression in 21% of the species, and there is no correlation between relative female tooth size and relative newborn size across higher primate taxa. The degree of female dental enlargement is most closely related to degree of sexual dimorphism in body weight. The correlation between degree of body weight dimorphism and relatively larger postcanine teeth in females than in males is 0.87 in the 38 species. Species that are monomorphic in weight tend to be monomorphic in tooth size even though females apparently require more food than males. While it may be advantageous for females of dimorphic species to have relatively larger postcanine teeth compare to males, the hypotheses about female tooth size and function for primates in general are rejected. It is concluded that dental dimorphism and postcanine tooth size in general cannot be viewed from a strict adaptationist perspective with regard to dietary volume.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-54
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Physical Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 1987


  • Allometry
  • Dentition
  • Metabolism
  • Primates
  • Reproduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Anthropology
  • Anatomy


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