Every animal has a unique set of teeth, from a lion's long and sharp canines to the impressive jaws of a hippopotamus. Many of these creatures use their teeth for purposes other than catching prey or chewing their food. The narwhal is an odd-looking whale with one extremely long tooth, but it doesn’t use this to overcome prey. Instead, this whale’s tooth helps to navigate minerals and changes in the ocean. To learn more about these interesting creatures, we explore the world’s top 7 animals with the biggest teeth.
1. Narwhals Have One Long Tooth
The narwhal looks like a mythical sea creature because it has one huge horn on its face. But what appears to be a horn or tusk is a 10-foot tooth! These strange sea creatures live in the Arctic Ocean and grow an extended tusk from one tooth. It is predominant in males that use the size of their horns to show dominance and attract females. Interestingly, the narwhal's tooth has millions of very sensitive nerves. Scientists presume that the long tooth helps whales detect changes in the sea’s salt content when the ice melts.
2. Elephant Tusks Reach 7 Feet
Apart from an elephant’s enormous size, they have huge teeth. These flat-footed animals possess only four teeth, or molars, in their mouths, each weighing around 4 lbs. Their tusks are overgrown incisors that can grow up to 7 feet long, but the largest tusks ever recorded reached an astonishing 10 feet. Elephant tusks are so strong, that they can remove tree roots and bark for food or serve as weapons in self-defense. Both humans and elephants have teeth that consist of dentin and enamel. The difference is that human teeth have dentin in the center of the tooth, whereas over 90% of tusks consist of dentin, called ivory.
3. Walruses Have Long Tusks of 2 Feet
A walrus doesn’t have regular molars or incisors but extended canines or tusks that are as long as 2 to 3 feet. They don’t need their tusks to hunt but to support their weight when lifting themselves out of water and onto ice. A walrus’s tusks continue to grow throughout its lifetime, but growth slows after 10-15 years. For males, the longer their teeth, the more threatening they appear to other walruses trying to challenge their position. Males will fiercely defend their territories by thrashing their tusks and bodies at challengers.
4. Hippopotamuses Have Big Jaws and Teeth
The hippopotamus is one of Africa’s most feared animals, but it also has the biggest teeth in the animal kingdom. Hippos have huge mouths and jaws with a bite force of over 1800 pounds per square inch. Their powerful cavities can crush a watermelon in a single bite, but even more impressive is the size of their teeth. A hippopotamus’s teeth reach between 1.2 and 1.5 feet in length. They use their large incisors to intimidate threats by opening their enormous mouths, or they’ll snap at an opponent while fighting.
5. Sperm Whales
The teeth of a sperm whale are not only long but heavy too! Each tooth can grow as long as 8 inches and weigh over 2 pounds. They have around 50 teeth in their lower jaw and none in the upper part of their mouths. Sperm whales don’t need their pearly whites to crush their prey because they only consume animals without skeletons, such as jellyfish. These giant ocean mammals have the largest teeth of all whales, consisting of ivory, the same material as an elephant tusk or a rhinoceros horn.
6. Saltwater Crocodiles Have 66 Big Teeth
Known for their scaly skin, impressive size, and intimidating looks, the saltwater crocodile makes our list of animals with the biggest teeth in the world. When we compare an alligator to a saltwater crocodile, the crocodile has larger teeth that can reach between 4 and 5 inches in length. They spend the majority of their lives in water and ambush their prey by gripping them and removing flesh as they turn and twist underwater. Small bird species, such as the Egyptian plover, remove food by climbing into the Nile crocodile’s open mouth to prevent decay. If these little teeth-cleaning birds don’t do their job and a crocodile loses a tooth, a new one will grow in its place.
7. Tiger vs Lion Fangs
When you think of which animal has the biggest teeth, big cats, such as lions and tigers, come to mind. These cats are very similar in overall size and power, but the endangered tiger trumps the lion as having longer canines. The largest teeth in a tiger’s mouth are the canines, and these can grow just over 3.5 inches long. In comparison, a lion’s canines reach 2.8 to 3 inches, with males usually possessing bigger fangs than females. Lions and tigers use their impressive canines to catch and eat their prey and inflict serious damage on their aggressors.
Hippos use their tusks to scare intruders.
Big teeth in the animal kingdom are not only meant for hunting; but for some creatures, their large chompers have special adaptations. Elephants have developed large tusks from incisor teeth to help them dig deep into the earth for food and water. Hippos and sperm whales have massive teeth in their bottom jaws for combat, while walruses need their tusks for hauling onto slippery ice mounds. While some teeth are big and scary, others serve a special purpose. Ultimately, large teeth help many creatures defend themselves in the unpredictable and tough wilderness.