The Bathyergidae, commonly known as blesmols or African mole-rats, is a family of rodents well-known for their subterranean lifestyle and tunnelling behaviour. Four of the five extant bathyergid genera (Cryptomys, Fukomys, Georychus and Heliophobius) are chisel-tooth diggers, that is they dig through soil with their enlarged incisors, whereas the remaining genus (Bathyergus) is a scratch-digger, only using its forelimbs for burrowing. Heterocephalus glaber, the naked mole-rat, is also a chisel-tooth digger and was until recently included within the Bathyergidae (as the most basally branching genus), but has now been placed by some researchers into its own family, the Heterocephalidae. Given the importance of the masticatory apparatus in habitat construction in this group, knowledge and understanding of the morphology and arrangement of the jaw-closing muscles in Bathyergidae is vital for future functional analyses. Here, we use diffusible iodine-based contrast-enhanced microCT to reveal and describe the muscles of mastication in representative specimens of each genus of bathyergid mole-rat and to compare them to the previously described musculature of the naked mole-rat. In all bathyergids, as in all rodents, the masseter muscle is the most dominant component of the masticatory musculature. However, the temporalis is also a relatively large muscle, a condition normally associated with sciuromorphous rodents. Unlike their hystricomorphous relatives, the bathyergids do not show an extension of the masseter through the infraorbital foramen on to the rostrum (other than a very slight protrusion in Cryptomys and Fukomys). Thus, morphologically, bathyergids are protrogomorphous, although this is thought to be secondarily derived rather than retained from ancestral rodents. Overall, the relative proportions of the jaw-closing muscles were found to be fairly consistent between genera except in Bathyergus, which was found to have an enlarged superficial masseter and relatively smaller pterygoid muscles. It is concluded that these differences may be a reflection of the behaviour of Bathyergus which, uniquely in the family, does not use its incisors for digging.
Table S1: Specimen information and scanning parameters.
Specimen IDs, DOIs and microCT scanning parameters for each specimen used in this analysis.
Table S2: Masticatory muscle masses.
Absolute masses (in g) of masticatory muscles of African mole-rats. Data for Heterocephalus from Cox & Faulkes (2014).