The kind of teeth every animal has is dictated by the diet that they eat. Carnivores tend to have large, sharp canines for catching prey. Herbivores sport ridged molars for grinding down plant material. However, there are some members of the animal kingdom with crazy teeth. This list will show you the largest, weirdest, and most unusual animal teeth.
1. Sheepshead Fish
Imagine that you’re swimming underwater and you smile at a fish. How weird would it be for that fish to smile back? Sheepshead fish have teeth that look just like ours! They have incisors at the front of their mouth that look eerily similar to a human smile and rows of molars in the back. The teeth are used for crushing the shells of the fish’s prey.
2. Naked Mole Rat
Naked mole rats are best known for their wrinkly skin and underground tunnels, but did you know that they also have some of the weirdest animal teeth? The long incisors of the naked mole rat are located outside of their lips. This adaptation allows naked mole rats to use their strong teeth to dig tunnels without getting any dirt in their mouth.
In addition, naked mole rats can move their teeth independently to help with digging. Since they use their incisors like shovels, one-quarter of a naked mole rat’s muscle strength is located in its jaws.
3. Crabeater Seal
You might assume that crabeater seals eat crabs, but this is a case of incorrect naming. Early explorers in Antarctica assumed that all seals eat crustaceans and the name stuck. Instead of crabs, the crabeater seals get approximately 90% of their nutrition from krill.
To efficiently eat enough of the tiny ocean organisms, crabeater seals have unusual teeth. Each tooth has a serrated edge and the teeth fit together to create a sieve. Water is easily strained out while the krill remains in the animal’s mouth.
An elephant’s tusks are its upper incisors. These modified teeth grow continuously throughout the elephant’s life. Both male and female African elephants have tusks but only male Asian elephants grow tusks. These long incisors are used for fighting, knocking down trees, and digging into the dirt.
Tusks aren’t the only crazy teeth that elephants have. They also have large molars that they use for eating vegetation. Each molar weighs around four pounds and is the size of a brick. As the molars are ground down by all the plant material, they will fall out and new teeth will take their place.
Elephants have six sets of teeth in their lifetime. Once the last set of teeth falls out, an elephant is no longer able to chew food. This is one of the common causes of death for elephants over 60 years old.
Sharks don’t seem like one of the animals with crazy teeth. They have sharp teeth used for catching prey and ripping apart meat (nothing unusual for a carnivore). However, the crazy thing about shark teeth is that one shark can have tens of thousands of teeth during its life.
If you look in a shark’s mouth, there is not just one row of teeth. There can be 5-10 visible rows of teeth, with more waiting beneath the gums. Every time a shark loses a tooth, which happens frequently, there is a replacement ready to go.
Parrotfish get their name for the beak-like structure at the front of their mouth. This beak is made up of a thousand teeth that have fused together. This adaptation allows parrotfish to chow down on hard corals and scrape algae off of rocks. Scuba divers report that you can hear a parrotfish chewing across a reef.
Since they are constantly eating and breaking apart hard coral, parrotfish poop turns into sand. A single parrotfish can create 1,000 pounds of sand in one year.
The babirusa is a species of wild pigs that are native to southeast Asia. This pig takes the top prize for animals with unusual teeth. A male babirusa’s tusks grow out of the middle of its face! Female babirusas do not grow tusks and look more like a pig you would see on a farm.
Babirusa tusks are canine teeth that grow long and extend out of the mouth. The lower canines grow out of the sides of the mouth. The crazy upper canines grow out of the middle of the face (skin and all) before curving backward. These tusks can grow to be over one foot long. In rare cases, the tusks grow so long that they start to grow back into the babirusa’s face.
Manatees, fondly called sea cows, use their large lips to rip up underwater vegetation. These hungry animals can eat up to 100 pounds of plants per day. As herbivores, manatees have ridged molars that allow them to grind down the vegetation.
The reason why manatee teeth are unusual is that they slowly move from the back of the mouth to the front of the mouth until they fall out. This is called “marching molars.” By the time the molars reach the front of the mouth, they are smooth because all the chewing has worn away the ridges. Scientists are not sure how many teeth a manatee can have in its lifetime, but it appears that they can continuously grow new teeth as long as necessary.
The rodent family includes mice, squirrels, beavers, and nutria. These animals are known for their continuously growing incisors. Rodents must chew on things like wood to keep their teeth at a manageable length. If the teeth get too long, the rodent is no longer able to eat and can pass away.
In addition to the incessant chewing necessary to keep their incisors short, some rodents take the crazy teeth to another level. Instead of the usual white color, their incisors are bright orange due to the high levels of iron in their diet.
The narwhal is a mythical-looking whale with a large tusk protruding from its face. While some call it a unicorn whale, the narwhal has a tusk and not a horn. Narwhal tusks are spiralized teeth that can grow to be over eight feet long.
Narwhals only have two teeth total, one of them growing into its tusk. Most of the time, it is the left tooth that becomes the tusk. However, some narwhals end up with two tusks when both teeth grow. Typically, only male narwhals have tusks. Occasionally, a female narwhal will grow a tusk or a male narwhal can lose his.
The narwhal tusk is like an “inside-out” tooth because the nerve endings are located on the outside of the tusk and the inside is hard like enamel. Scientists believe that the sensitive tusks are used to detect changes in water quality or track prey movement.
Another one of the animals with unusual teeth is the hippopotamus. Even though hippos are herbivores, they have large, sharp canines that can protrude from their mouths. These canines are used for fighting other hippos and defending their territory.
Male hippopotamus canines can grow over a foot and a half long. The upper and lower canines rub against each other and sharpen the teeth with every movement. Since these canines can get so large, male hippos often have bumps on either side of their nostrils where their lower canines fit between their lip and their gums.
It is common for these impressive canines to break off during fights. The teeth are continuously growing so the tusk will grow back within a couple of years. Since hippos in zoos do not have to fight for territory, many zoos will trim or file their hippos’ tusks to prevent them from getting too long or sharp. Don’t worry, it is like cutting a fingernail and the hippos don’t feel a thing.
12. Tufted Deer
Tufted deer are another animal with weirdly impressive canines for their lifestyle. These small deer are herbivores that use their molars for chewing plant material. Yet, they’ve earned the nickname of “vampire deer” because the males have long canines that stick out of their mouths.
Female tufted deer also have large canines, but they are not as prominent as the canines of the males. The males use these teeth when fighting during mating season.
Bonus – Penguin
Penguins are a bonus animal with crazy teeth because they don’t actually have teeth. That doesn’t stop their mouths from looking like a torture device! A penguin’s tongue and roof of the mouth are covered in tooth-like barbs that help the bird to hold onto slippery prey. This comes in handy when they are quickly swimming through the water and grabbing onto wiggly fish.