Here at the society, we have collected many mammalian skulls – with some being nearly over 100 years old! However, all these skulls belong to different animals with different eating habits so Zoologists can determine a lot about each of these animals just by examining their skulls and teeth (Figure 1).
Figure 1 – Visual Comparison of Dentition [Drawn by Antonia Plummer, 2022]
Mammals can be sorted into 3 distinct groups based on their diet: carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore.
A carnivore is an animal which only eats meat, like a tiger.
A herbivore is an animal which only eats plant matter, like an antelope or sheep.
An omnivore is an animal which eats both meat and plants, like apes and me!
Teeth are obviously very important when it comes to diet and so the arrangement and type of teeth (dentition) differs depending on whether you’re a carnivore, herbivore, or omnivore whilst many reptiles (eg. crocodile) have teeth which are all similar in shape (homodont).
Mammals (heterodonts) have 4 types of teeth which they share with one another:
- Incisors – located at the front of your mouth, it’s used for cutting or gnawing. They are often simple and bladelike.
- Canines – located behind the incisors, they are sharp and pointed, used for tearing/holding or piercing prey.
- Premolars – located behind the canines, they are broader and flatter, used for crushing and chewing.
- Molars – located at the back of your jaw, they are similar to premolars except they are blunter, larger and have more roots.
Next time you look in the mirror, see if you can identify these types of teeth (as in the figure below) in your own mouth!
Figure 2 Overview of the human jaw [ScientificAnimations.com. (2017). Still from a medical animation showing the types and arrangement of teeth in the mouth of an adult human being. [online image]. Available from: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:3D_Medical_Animation_Still_Showing_Types_of_Teeth.jpg. Accessed 07 July 2022].