Structure and Topographic Distribution of Oral Denticles in Elasmobranch Fishes Academic Article uri icon


  • The placoid scales, or denticles, of the external epidermis of elasmobranchs are well known as a hard protective coat over the skin to reduce abrasion or as elements to reduce hydrodynamic drag. However, the structure and function of denticles within the oral cavity is uncertain. Using stereological and scanning electron microscopy, this study examines the structure and distribution of oral denticles in a range of elasmobranchs. Of the batoids analyzed, only members of the Rhinobatidae possessed oral denticles, with no denticles found in the members sampled in the Gymnuridae or Dasyatidae. In contrast, oral denticles were located in all the selachians examined, except for members of the Orectolobidae. Within the selachians, the denticles of the Carcharhinidae have a grooved surface and a central spine, which is angled toward the posterior of the mouth. These denticular adaptations are beneficial to reduce hydrodynamic drag, an advantage for these free-swimming species with ram ventilation. Alternatively, members of the Hemiscyllidae have broad bulbous denticles that often overlap, providing a hard surface to protect the epithelium from abrasion during the consumption of hard-bodied prey. The distribution and high number of oral denticles appears to spatially compromise the capacity for oral (taste) papillae to populate the oropharyngeal cavity but provides increased friction and grip on prey items as they are manipulated within the mouth.

publication date

  • February 2012