Crocodiles are the largest reptiles on earth. They live throughout the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia, and are just as at home in saltwater as they are in freshwater. All crocodiles (at least 18 species worldwide) are members of the Crocodylidae family, along with alligators and caimans.
Crocodiles are semi-aquatic, aggressive predators who use their impressive jaws to both take down prey, and carry their young. Here, we’ll explore everything there is to know about crocodile teeth, their crushing bite, and how they use those fearsome jaws to hunt. Then, we’ll learn about an extinct species of crocodile that had teeth the size of steak knives. Finally, we’ll learn about whether or not crocodiles, and their teeth, are dangerous to humans.
What Type of Teeth Do Crocodiles Have?
Crocodiles have slightly curved, conical teeth lining both sides of their jaws. Most species have around 60-70 teeth, but some may have up to 100 crammed into their jaws. Saltwater crocodiles have an even 66 teeth; 36 on top, and 30 on bottom.
Unlike alligators, who have broad jaws, crocodiles have narrow mouths, with an upper jaw that’s slightly narrower than the bottom jaw. When a crocodile closes its mouth, nearly every one of its teeth are visible–both on the top and bottom jaws. When an alligator closes its mouth however, only its top teeth are visible.
Additionally, the fourth tooth back in a crocodile’s mouth is massive (like the canine tooth on a wolf). This tooth juts distinctly into the side of the upper jaw, creating a dent called a constriction.
Growing New Teeth
Crocodiles can live up to 75 years (and even longer in captivity). That’s a long time for teeth to last, which is why the crocodile has 4-5 backup sets. Teeth are frequently lost or broken, only to soon be replaced by a new tooth that grows from beneath the old tooth. When the new tooth is ready, it simply pushes the broken tooth out of the socket and–voila, a perfect set of pearly whites.
What Do Crocodiles Use Their Teeth For?
Crocodiles are ambush predators; large adults are capable of taking down ungulates like zebra and wildebeest. But they don’t use their teeth the same way other big hunters, like great white sharks, do. Instead, they use their teeth as clamps to keep the prey from escaping. Once a crocodile has a good hold on an animal, almost nothing will open its jaws.
Because crocodiles use their teeth to hold, not to cut, this means they also can’t use them to chew. Because of this, when a crocodile gets a mouthful of something too big to swallow in one bite, it employs a unique method of hacking off meat.
The Death Roll
Because crocodiles teeth aren’t meant for tearing, they have to use other means to rip away mouthfuls of meat. Their chosen method is appropriately called a death roll. It involves the crocodile, once latched onto a carcass too big to swallow, using its tail to flip its entire body. The crocodile keeps flipping, rolling to one side as if it were rolling itself up in a rug, until the momentum and vice like grip of the jaws dislodges a mouthful of meat. The crocodile happily swallows its prize and, if its still hungry, goes back for more.
Are Crocodiles’ Teeth Sharp?
Though large and fearsome, crocodiles’ teeth are not sharp. That is, you could touch your finger to one (just as long as it’s not in a live crocodile’s mouth) and it wouldn’t cut you. You could even run your finger down the tooth, or hold it in your palm, and you would be safe. They’re not serrated like the teeth of komodo dragons.
Instead, crocodiles’ teeth are surprisingly blunt. This may seem strange, but when you consider the crocodiles’ method of hunting, it makes sense. If a crocodile’s teeth had sharp cutting edges, they would just cut through whatever animal they were trying to drag into the water, and the animal would get away. The crocodiles’ blunt teeth are perfect for holding on, and never letting go.
Crocodiles have the strongest bite force of any living creature on earth. Bite force is measured in pounds per square foot (lbf); adult crocodiles can bite with 5,000 lbf. For comparison, a rottweiler dog bites with about 300 lbf.
This incredible bite force, coupled with the blunt teeth, allows the crocodile to chomp down on–and hold onto–whatever it wants, without fear of it getting away.
Ancient Crocodile Teeth
Modern crocodiles are pretty impressive; but when it comes to bite force, the teeth of the extinct Deinosuchus can’t be beat.
Deinosuchus (a relative of modern crocodiles and alligators) lived during the late Cretaceous era. Adults had an estimated length of 30-40 feet and–they had teeth that reached eight inches in length. These massive predators had a bite force to match; over 20,000 lbf, according to scientists’ estimates.
Are Crocodiles Dangerous to Humans?
Crocodiles are the apex predators of their aquatic environments. They are hunters, and pose a threat to any humans that enter their territory. This is particularly true of the aggressively territorial Nile and saltwater crocodiles. Crocodiles attack dozens of people every year and, unfortunately, there are casualties.
It’s important to remember that crocodiles, while they are predators and can injure or even kill humans, are not evil. They’re incredible creatures, with amazing mouths full of immense jaw muscles and teeth, and they deserve our respect. Remember–if you encounter a crocodile in the wild, admire them from a safe distance.
The Featured Image
Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.