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The Journal of Experimental Biology


Cartilaginous fishes continuously replace their teeth throughout their life (polyphyodonty) and often show a sexually dimorphic dentition that was previously thought to be an invariant sex character. Radial vector analysis of tooth shape in the polyphyodontic stingray Dasyatis sabina across a consecutive 24 month period shows a stable molariform morphology for females but a periodic shift in male dentition from a female-like molariform to a recurved cuspidate form during the reproductive season. The grip tenacity of the male dentition is greater for the cuspidate form that occurs during the mating season than for the molariform dentition that occurs during the non-mating season. Dental sexual dimorphism and its sex-dependent temporal plasticity probably evolved via polyphyodontic preadaptation under selective pressures on both sexes for increased feeding efficiency and sexual selection in males to maximize mating success. These phenomena are important considerations for the identification and classification of cartilaginous fishes and possibly other polyphyodontic vertebrates in the fossil record.

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