Sutures form an integral part of the functioning skull, but their role has long been debated among vertebrate morphologists and palaeontologists. Furthermore, the relationship between typical skull sutures, and those involved in cranial kinesis, is poorly understood. In a series of computational modelling studies, complex loading conditions obtained through multibody dynamics analysis were imposed on a finite element model of the skull of Uromastyx hardwickii, an akinetic herbivorous lizard. A finite element analysis (FEA) of a skull with no sutures revealed higher patterns of strain in regions where cranial sutures are located in the skull. From these findings, FEAs were performed on skulls with sutures (individual and groups of sutures) to investigate their role and function more thoroughly. Our results showed that individual sutures relieved strain locally, but only at the expense of elevated strain in other regions of the skull. These findings provide an insight into the behaviour of sutures and show how they are adapted to work together to distribute strain around the skull. Premature fusion of one suture could therefore lead to increased abnormal loading on other regions of the skull causing irregular bone growth and deformities. This detailed investigation also revealed that the frontal–parietal suture of the Uromastyx skull played a substantial role in relieving strain compared with the other sutures. This raises questions about the original role of mesokinesis in squamate evolution.
Keywords: suture, finite element analysis, Squamata, cranial kinesis