Postorbital bar

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The postorbital bar (or postorbital bone) is a bony arched structure that connects the frontal bone of the skull to the zygomatic arch, which runs laterally around the eye socket . It is a trait that only occurs in mammalian taxa, such as most strepsirrhine primates[1] and the hyrax,[2] while haplorhine primates have evolved fully enclosed sockets.[1] One theory for this evolutionary difference is the relative importance of vision to both orders. As haplorrhines (tarsiers and simians) tend to be diurnal, and rely heavily on visual input, many strepsirrhines are nocturnal and have a decreased reliance on visual input.[1]

Postorbital bars evolved several times independently during mammalian evolution[2] and the evolutionary histories of several other clades. Some species, such as Tarsiers, have a postorbital septum.[3] This septum can be considered as joined processes with a small articulation between the frontal bone, the zygomatic bone and the alisphenoid bone and is therefore different to the postorbital bar, while it forms a composite structure together with the postorbital bar. Other species such as dermopterans have postorbital processes, which is a more primitive incomplete stage of the postorbital bar.[citation needed]

Function of the Postorbital Bar[edit]

In the past decades, many different hypothesis were made on the possible function of the postorbital bar. Three of them are commonly cited.

External trauma hypothesis[edit]

Prince[4][5] and Simons[6] offered the external trauma hypothesis, where the postorbital bar protects the orbital contents from external trauma. However, a few years later Cartmill[7] showed otherwise. He was convinced that the postorbital bar was not adequate enough to offer protection against sharp objects such as the teeth of other species. He was there for convinced that the postorbital bar must have a different function.

Mastication hypothesis[edit]

Greaves[8] offered a new view on this bone and came up with the mastication hypothesis. Greaves suggests that the bar strengthens the relatively weak orbital area against torsional loading, imposed by bite force in species with large masseter and temporalis muscles. However the orientation of the postorbital process does not match the direction of the forces mentioned by Greaves.[9][10]

Position hypothesis[edit]

Cartmill[7][11][12] suggests that in small mammals with large eyes and relatively small temporal fossae, where the anterior temporal muscle and the temporalis fascia are pulled to a more lateral position with increasing orbital convergence (front-facing eyes), the tension caused by the contraction of these muscles would distort the orbital margins and disrupt oculomotor precision.

Heesy[2] shows that the postorbital bar stiffens the lateral orbit. Without a stiffened lateral orbit, deformation would displace soft tissues, when contraction of the anterior temporalis muscle takes place, thus impeding eye movement.


A complete postorbital bar has evolved at least eleven times as a convergent adaptation in nine mammalian orders.[2] Postorbital bars are characteristic to the following clades:

Postorbital bars have furthermore developed individually in the following taxa:

The presence of a postorbital bar in the extinct Oviraptorosauria species Avimimus portentosus was one of several defining characteristics that suggested to paleontologists that the species was more morphologically different from avian species than previously thought, affecting interpretation of the rate of evolution from dinosaurs to birds.[13]

Postorbital process[edit]

Postorbital bars are likely derived from well-developed postorbital processes, an intermediate condition where a small gap retains between the process and the zygomatic arch. Well-developed postorbital processes have evolved separately within the orders of the Dermoptera and Hyracoidae and the Chiropteran families of Emballonuridae and Pteropodidae and to varying degrees within many carnivorian taxa.[2]

Complete postorbital bars and well-developed postorbital processes, retaining gaps of mere centimetres, spanned by the postorbital ligament, occur as polymorphisms within a number of pteropodid and hyracoid taxa.[7][14][15][16]


  1. ^ a b c Campbell, Bernard G., Loy, James D. (2000). Humankind Emerging (8th edition). Allyn & Bacon. p. 85.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ a b c d e Heesy, Christopher P. (2005-06-01). "Function of the mammalian postorbital bar". Journal of Morphology. 264 (3): 363–380. doi:10.1002/jmor.10334. ISSN 1097-4687. PMID 15844100.
  3. ^ Percival, Christopher J.; Richtsmeier, Joan T. (2017-02-23). Building bones : bone formation and development in anthropology. Percival, Christopher J.,, Richtsmeier, Joan T. Cambridge, United Kingdom. ISBN 9781107122789. OCLC 971531579.
  4. ^ Prince, J. H. (1953). "Comparative anatomy of the orbit". Br J Physiol Optics. 10: 144–154.
  5. ^ Prince, J. H. (1956). "Comparative anatomy of the eye". Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas.
  6. ^ Simons, J. L. (1962). "Fossil evidence relating to the early evolution of primate behavior". Ann N Y Acad Sci. 102 (2): 282–294. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1962.tb13646.x.
  7. ^ a b c Cartmill, M. (1970). "The orbits of arboreal mammals: a reassessment of the arboreal theory of primate evolution". Ph.D. Dissertation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago.
  8. ^ Greaves, W. S. (1985-09-01). "The mammalian postorbital bar as a torsion-resisting helical strut". Journal of Zoology. 207 (1): 125–136. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.1985.tb04918.x. ISSN 1469-7998.
  9. ^ Ravosa, Matthew J. (1991-11-01). "Interspecific perspective on mechanical and nonmechanical models of primate circumorbital morphology". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 86 (3): 369–396. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330860305. ISSN 1096-8644. PMID 1746644.
  10. ^ Ravosa, Matthew J. (1991-05-01). "Ontogenetic perspective on mechanical and nonmechanical models of primate circumorbital morphology". American Journal of Physical Anthropology. 85 (1): 95–112. doi:10.1002/ajpa.1330850111. ISSN 1096-8644. PMID 1853947.
  11. ^ Cartmill, M. (1972). "Arboreal adaptations and the origin of the Order Primates". Tuttle R, Editor. The Functional and Evolutionary Biology of Primates. Chicago: Aldine: 97–122.
  12. ^ M., Cartmill (1980). "Morphology, function, and evolution of the anthropoid postorbital septum". Ciochon RL, Chiarelli AB, Editors. Evolutionary Biology of the New World Monkeys and Continental Drift.: 243–274.
  13. ^ Tsuihiji, Takanobu; Witmer, Lawrence M.; Watabe, Mahito; Barsbold, Rinchen; Tsogtbaatar, Khishigjav; Suzuki, Shigeru; Khatanbaatar, Purevdorj (2017-07-04). "New information on the cranial morphology of Avimimus (Theropoda: Oviraptorosauria)". Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology. 37 (4): e1347177. doi:10.1080/02724634.2017.1347177. ISSN 0272-4634.
  14. ^ Noble, Vivian E.; Kowalski, Erica M.; Ravosa, Matthew J. (2000-03-01). "Orbit orientation and the function of the mammalian postorbital bar". Journal of Zoology. 250 (3): 405–418. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2000.tb00784.x. ISSN 1469-7998.
  15. ^ Ravosa, Matthew J.; Noble, Vivian E.; Hylander, William L.; Johnson, Kirk R.; Kowalski, Erica M. (2000). "Masticatory stress, orbital orientation and the evolution of the primate postorbital bar". Journal of Human Evolution. 38 (5): 667–693. doi:10.1006/jhev.1999.0380. PMID 10799259.
  16. ^ Heesy, C. P. (2003). "The Evolution of Orbit Orientation in Mammals and the Function of the Primate Postorbital Bar". Stony Brook University.