What is the sagittal crest in cats? It is a ridge running down the midline of the skull. You should be able to feel it when you stroke your cat’s head. Many carnivores have it. Its presence indicates that the jaw muscles are strong. Humans don’t have it but some individuals have a ‘sagittal keel’ (e.g. Patrick Stewart the actor). It looks like a vestigial version of the sagittal crest.
The cat’s skull is highly domed. The zygomatic arches (cheek bones) are wide. The face is foreshortened (the cat relies more on sound and vision than smell to locate prey) and the ‘strong sagittal crest provides an anchor for powerful jaw muscles’. This anatomy increases the bite force of the canine teeth (the large pointed teeth at both ends of the incisors). These are the teeth of a specialist carnivore – a ‘hypercarnivore’. The premolar furthest from the canines are like shears to cut through flesh.
The jaguar has the strongest bit force of all cats, strong enough to pierce the carapace of a turtle. The jaguar skull has a pronounced sagittal crest which for me is to be expected. A point of attachment of the jaw muscles (temporalis muscle) is this area of the skull.
A Bengal cat breeder (Quality Bengal Kittens) says that all wild cat species have the sagittal crest while domestic cats are losing it because they are fed rather then having the need to kill and eat with strong jaw muscles. Below are a couple of photos showing the sagittal crest in (1) an unspecified domestic cat and (2) a purebred Persian cat (also a domestic cat). The Persian is highly selectively bred and described as a piece of furniture (ornamental!) and yet the crest is quite visible. The eye sockets are enormous in domestic cats. Selective breeding of purebred cats is probably a factor in these exaggerated eye sockets.
The photo below shows the sagittal crest in a small wild cat species, the jaguarundi.
Note: I believe that the photos are in the public domain save for the one credited to the creator.
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