Teeth today
Having looked at some very ancient fossil teeth, how about switching to the animals around us? Here are the names of some marine and terrestrial animals we are familiar with, along with a brief description of their diet. Read the information, then try to sketch what you think their teeth might be like. To confirm your guess, click on the animal's name and see their toothy smiles!
Some of the animals we know...
Dolphins are mammals (they are warm-blooded, breathe air, and their young feed on milk), yet they live in the sea! The dolphins' main food source is small fish they find with echo-location (by emitting sharp clicks and then listening to the "echo" off the fish ahead of them). Small fish tend to swim in large groups called "schools", but scatter quickly when in danger. When a dolphin finds a school of fish, it grabs one with its teeth and swallows it quickly without much chewing, so that its jaws are free to catch the next one before the school gets away.
Horses originally appeared and lived on wide-open grass steppes of Asia. The grass is therefore their primary food sourse. Horses eat grass by cropping the stems with their front teeth, grinding the tough grass stalks finely, and then digesting the plant material in their large gut, with some help from bacteria.
Sharks, like dolphins, are also marine creatures. Unlike dolphins they are not mammals but large bony fish. Sharks can feed on any kind of meat they come across, including animals larger than themselves. They are called "sea wolves" for their important ecological function as the best predators of the sea. The sharks have very strong jaws which allow them to tear out chunks of meat, and several rows of constantly replaced teeth for grabbing and ripping. They are not much good at chewing their food though; they bolt the meat right down!
Monkeys come in many varieties, and specialize in many foods depending on their habitat. They are omnivores - animals that can eat a lot of different things, plants as well as meats. They can use teeth for biting through stiff tissues, taking a chunk out of fruit or meat, or chewing up tough fibers before swallowing them. Much like us, actually.
Lions and tigers are among the largest, strongest terrestrial predators today. They are built for a burst of speed that allows them to run down one of the numerous grazing animals, an antelope for example. Once they catch up, these carnivores jump the prey, knock it down, and quickly break its neck with their powerful jaws. They then use their teeth to tear the meat. Lions and tigers aren't much into chewing their food. They have to swallow it quickly, before other carnivores who might want a bite (such as hyenas) appear. The lions and tigers are then free to go off and digest their meal in a quiet, shady spot.
Can you think of an animal with interesting eating habits and teeth?
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