Cranial kinesis

Cranial kinesis is the term for significant movement of skull bones relative to each other in addition to movement at the joint between the upper and lower jaw. It is usually taken to mean relative movement between the upper jaw and the braincase.[1]

Most vertebrates have some form of kinetic skull.[1] Cranial kinesis, or lack thereof, is usually linked to feeding. Animals which must exert powerful bite forces, such as crocodiles, often have rigid skulls with little or no kinesis for maximum strength. Animals which swallow large prey whole (snakes), which grip awkwardly shaped food items (parrots eating nuts), or, most often, which feed in the water via suction feeding often have very kinetic skulls, frequently with numerous mobile joints. In the case of mammals, who have akinetic skulls (except for perhaps hares), the lack of kinesis is most likely to be related to the secondary palate, which prevents relative movement.[1] This in turn is a consequence of the need to be able to create a suction during suckling.

Ancestry also plays a role in limiting or enabling cranial kinesis. Significant cranial kinesis is rare in mammals (the human skull shows no cranial kinesis at all). Birds have varying degrees of cranial kinesis, with parrots exhibiting the greatest degree. Among reptiles, crocodilians and turtles lack cranial kinesis, while lizards possess some, often minor, degree of kinesis and snakes possessing the most exceptional cranial kinesis of any tetrapod. In amphibians, cranial kinesis varies, but is unknown in frogs and rare in salamanders. Almost all fish have highly kinetic skulls, and teleost fish have developed the most kinetic skulls of any living organism.

Joints are often simple syndesmosis joints, but in some organisms, some joints may be synovial, permitting a greater range of movement.

Types of kinesis

Versluys (1910, 1912, 1936) classified types of cranial kinesis based on the location of the joint in the dorsal part of the skull.

Hofer (1949) further partitioned mesokinesis into

Streptostyly is the fore-aft movement of the quadrate about the otic joint (quadratosquamosal joint), although transverse movements may also be possible.[2] Many hypothesized types of kinesis require basal joint kinesis (neurokinesis of Iordansky, 1990), that is, movement between the braincase and palate at the basipterygoid joint.


The first example of cranial kinesis was in the chondrichthyans, such as sharks. There is no attachment between the hyomandibular and the quadrate, and instead the hyoid arch suspends the two sets of jaws like pendulums. This allows sharks to swing their jaws outwards and forwards over the prey, allowing the synchronous meeting of the jaws and avoiding deflecting the prey when it comes close.

Actinopterygian fish

Actinopts (ray finned fish) possess a huge range of kinetic mechanisms. As a general trend through phylogenetic trees, there is a tendency to liberate more and more bony elements to allow greater skull motility. Most actinopts use kinesis to rapidly expand their buccal cavity, to create suction for suction feeding.

Sarcopterygian fish

Early Dipnoi (lungfishes) had upper jaws fused to their braincase, which implies feeding on hard substrates. Many crossopterygian fishes had kinesis also.


Early tetrapods inherited much of their suction feeding ability from their crossopterygian ancestors. The skulls of modern Lissamphibians are greatly simplified.

Modern reptiles

Reptiles exhibit an extraordinary range of kinetic mechanisms, the most spectacular of which is snakes, who use highly kinetic joints to allow a huge gap; it is these highly kinetic joints that allow the wide gape and not the "unhinging" of joints, as many believe. Kinesis also prevents the "scissor effect", whereby the food item is pushed out of the mouth as the jaw occludes posteriorly to anteriorly. Typically, most modern reptile skulls are dikinetic, having both meta- and meso-kinetic joints. The mandibular bone is connected to the neurocranium via the quadrate and squamosal. The mandibulo-quadrate joint also articulates with the (palatine-pterygoid) bar which then connects to the maxilla, when the quadrate is pulled towards the skull by muscle x then the bar pushes on the base of the maxilla and causes the upper jaw to open.


The three principle types of kinesis found in Dinosaurs are,

Some show a combination of the two, such as streptostyly and prokinesis (Shuvuuia). Many, on the other hand, have at various points been thought to show akinesis, such as sauropods, ankylosaurs, and ceratopsians. It can be very difficult to prove that skulls were akinetic, and many of the above examples are contentious.

Pleurokinesis in ornithopods

Pleurokinesis refers to the complex multiple jointing thought to occur in ornithopods, such as hadrosaurs. Ornithopod jaws are isognathic (meet simultaneously), working like a guillotine to slice plant material which can be manipulated with their teeth. However, because of the wedge shape of their teeth, the occlusional plane is tilted away from the centre of the head, causing the jaws to lock together and, due to the lack of a secondary palate, the force of this would not be braced. Because of this, Norman and Weishampel proposed a pleurokinetic skull. Here, there are four (or perhaps even more) kinetic parts of the skull,

As the lower jaw closes, the maxillojugal units move laterally producing a power stroke. These motions were later proved by a microwear analysis on an Edmontosaurus jaw.[3]


Birds show a vast range of cranial kinetic hinges in their skulls. Zusi[4] recognised three basic forms of cranial kinesis in birds,

Rhynchokinesis is further subdivided into double, distal, proximal, central and extensive. The older terms "schizorhynal" and "holorhynal" are generally synonymous with rhynchokinesis. In schizorhinal birds and most rhynchokinetic birds the presence of two hinge axes at the base of the upper jaw imposes a requirement of bending within the jaw during kinesis. Bending takes different forms according to the number of hinges and their geometric configuration within the upper jaw. Proximal rhynchokinesis and distal rhynchokinesis apparently evolved from double rhynchokinesis by loss of different hinges. Extensive rhynchokinesis is an unusual and probably specialized variant. Kinesis in hummingbirds is still little understood.[4]


Rhynchokinesis is an ability possessed by some birds to flex their upper beak or rhinotheca. Rhynchokinesis involves flexing at a point some way along the upper beak - either upwards, in which case the upper beak and lower beak or gnathotheca diverge, resembling a yawn, or downwards, in which case the tips of the beaks remain together while a gap opens up between them at their midpoint.

Unlike prokinesis, which is widespread in birds, rhynchokinesis is only known in cranes, shorebirds, swifts and hummingbirds. The adaptive significance of rhynchokinesis in certain non-probing birds is not yet known. It is hypothesized that the schizorhinal skull in proximally rhynchokinetic birds reflects ancestry, but has no adaptive explanation, in many living species.[4]

Species in which this has been recorded photographically include the following species: short-billed dowitcher, marbled godwit, least sandpiper, common snipe, long-billed curlew, pectoral sandpiper, semipalmated sandpiper, Eurasian oystercatcher and bar-tailed godwit (see Chandler 2002 and external links).

Either prokinesis or some form of rhynchokinesis could be primitive for birds. Rhynchokinesis is not compatible with the presence of teeth in the bending zone of the ventral bar of the upper Jaw, and it probably evolved after their loss. Neognathous rhynchokinesis, however, probably evolved from prokinesis. The evolutionary origin of rhynchokinesis from prokinesis required selection for morphological changes that produced two hinge axes at the base of the upper jaw. Once evolved, the properties of these axes were subject to selection in relation to their effects on kinesis. The various forms of kinesis are hypothesized to have evolved by simple steps. In neognathous birds, prokinesis was probably ancestral to amphikinesis, and amphikinesis to rhynchokinesis in most cases, but prokinesis has also evolved secondarily.[4]


In hares or "jackrabbits" (but not in their ancestors), there is a suture between regions in the fetal braincase that remain open in the adult, forming what is thought to be an intracranial joint, permitting relative motion between the anterior and posterior part of the braincase. It is thought that this helps absorb the force of impact as the hare strikes the ground.[1]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 Kardong, Kenneth V. (1995). Vertebrates: Comparative anatomy, function and evolution. Wm. C. Brown.
  2. Holliday, Casey M.; Lawrence M. Witmer (December 2008). "Cranial Kinesis in Dinosaurs: Intracranial Joints, Protractor Muscles, and Their Significance for Cranial Evolution and Function in Diapsids" (PDF). Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 28 (4): 1073–1088. doi:10.1671/0272-4634-28.4.1073. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  3. Williams, V. S; P. M Barrett; M. A Purnell (2009). "Quantitative analysis of dental microwear in hadrosaurid dinosaurs, and the implications for hypotheses of jaw mechanics and feeding" (PDF). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 2010-05-22.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Zusi, Richard L. (1984). "A functional and Evolutionary Analysis of Rhynchokinesis in birds" (PDF). Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology. 395. Retrieved 2010-05-27.

External links

Photographs of birds performing rhynchokinesis can be found here:

A very clear animation of pleurokinesis in Hadrosaurs can be found here:

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