Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


Eric J Hilton

Committee Member

Michael Vecchione

Committee Member

Bruce B Collette

Committee Member

Nalani Schnell

Committee Member

Wolfgang Vogelbein


The Longnose Lancetfish, Alepisaurus ferox, is a pelagic marine fish that has a heterodont dentition, including large fangs on both the upper and lower jaws. Their diet is well documented and includes salps, hyperiid amphipods, pelagic polychaete worms, mesopelagic fishes, and cephalopods. However, the function of the heterodont dentition, the structure of the teeth, and replacement mode is largely unknown. We studied a series of A. ferox to describe their dentition and tooth replacement. All teeth are replaced extraosseously. Palatine and dentary fangs develop horizontally in the oral epithelium on the lingual surface of dentigerous bones. Developing fangs rotate into place and attach to the bone through a pedicel that forms at the base of each tooth on the lingual side of the dentigerous bone. We compare extraosseous horizontal tooth replacement and rotation of large fangs in A. ferox to examples of other teleosts rotation of fangs. Atlantic Cutlassfish, Trichiurus lepturus, have large, barbed premaxillary and dentary fangs and sharp, dagger-shaped teeth in their oral jaws. We used dry skeletons, histology, SEM, and micro-CT scanning to study T. lepturus to describe its dentition and tooth replacement. We identified and described three modes of intraosseous tooth replacement in T. lepturus depending on the location of the tooth in the jaw. Such distinct modes of tooth replacement in a teleostean species are unknown. We compared modes of replacement in T. lepturus to 20 species of scombroids to explore the phylogenetic distribution of these three replacement modes. Our study highlights the complexity and variability of intraosseous tooth replacement and that developmentally different tooth replacement processes can yield remarkably similar dentitions. We review literature on the comparative anatomy of Ocean Sunfishes (Molidae) and presents new findings based on our studies. We document similarities and differences among the three living genera, Ranzania, Masturus, and Mola using an organ system approach to examine: general body form and external anatomy; skeleton; integument; brain and sense organs; digestive organs; heart and circulation; respiratory system; excretory system; and endocrine organs. Molids have many anatomical specializations such as the formation of the clavus from dorsal- and anal-fin elements, enlarged gills with unusual skeletal supports, a heart with thick walls and more valves than other teleosts, ontogenetic loss of the swimbladder, enlarged kidneys and a well-developed urinary bladder, reduced otoliths, and a spinal cord contained completely within the braincase. Tagging studies on locomotion and diving behavior demonstrate that molids move efficiently over horizontal and vertical distances in the water column, and this new information helps to interpret the many unusual features of molid anatomy.




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