Given their humongous size, there is no question as to why hippopotamuses are one of the most feared mammals. Apart from their terrifying appearances, they also have an odd-looking mouth that features frightening hippopotamus teeth. Although these enormous mammals are herbivores, they are equipped with long and sharp canines that can cause serious damage.
Hippopotamuses are one of the heaviest animals on Earth. They weigh up to 4.5 tons, almost double the weight of an average-sized vehicle. Most people assume that since hippos are herbivorous mammals, they cannot hurt a fly.
However, do not let an animal’s diet fool you when it comes to aggressiveness. The hippopotamus may have the friendliest-looking stubby-legged babies, but they are quite strong and can be very aggressive.
What Kind of Teeth Do Hippopotamuses Have?
People often assume that herbivores have harmless, unsharpened teeth. Most of them do, but not the hippopotamus. The hippopotamus has a complete set of heterodont teeth that includes incisors, a canine, premolars, and molars.
There are a lot of features that are odd for the hippopotamus –enormous bodies half-dipping in water, stubby legs, and thick, leathery skin without fur that sweat off blood-like fluids. Yet, one of the weirdest characteristics they might have is their dental structure. Unlike common herbivores, the hippopotamus does not just have leaf-crushing molars, but extra-long canines that can grow over a foot long.
As herbivores, you might assume that hippos only have flat teeth like those of cattle, to help them grind their plant-based food. What’s surprising, however, is that these herbivorous mammals also possess incredibly sharp canine teeth along with their flat-ridged molars. These canines grow incredibly long and are used in fighting other hippos over food or mates.
How Many Teeth Do Hippopotamuses Have?
Hippopotamuses commonly have 36 teeth. Their dental pattern is composed of two incisors, one canine, three premolars, and three molars, distributed in each quadrant. Some hippopotamuses have more teeth than usual because of the deciduous teeth that are retained even after reaching adulthood. These deciduous teeth can stay for many years after the permanent set of teeth has erupted in their place.
Hippopotamuses typically have a dental formula of: incisors 2/2, canines 1/1, premolars 3-4/3-4, and molars 3/3.
What Do Hippopotamuses Use Their Teeth For?
Like in most herbivores, the premolars and molars of hippos, collectively called “cheek teeth”, are used in crushing and grinding their food. These heavy mammals eat about 50 pounds of food in a day, which puts their molars to good use. The prominent foot-long canines, however, are not used for food, as a hippopotamus’ diet consists solely of plant matter. Instead, these terrifying canines are utilized as offensive weapons in biting and fighting other hippopotamuses.
The top incisors and lower canines of the hippopotamus are represented by enormous tusks in both jaws. Lower canines are the largest and most tusk-like teeth, and they are used as weapons for defense and attack.
These sharp canines are continuously sharpened as hippopotamuses grind them together. Their wide, horny lips help hippopotamuses snatch grass, which is then chewed by their cheek teeth.
What Are a Hippopotamus Teeth Made Of?
The largest canines in a hippopotamus’ mouth are commonly called tusk. This is similar to an elephant’s tusk and is in fact, made of the same material. The hippopotamus tusk or canines have ivory resting under layers of dentin and enamel, the same white material that makes up an elephant’s prominent tusk.
This ivory is a very expensive, popular material that is hunted and poached by many. Hippopotamus ivory is more difficult to carve than elephant ivory, but it is denser and less vulnerable to wear. That is why huge populations of hippos are hunted down for their tusks. During the 18th century, hippopotamus tusks were widely used to construct dentures and to substitute individual teeth.
How Strong Is a Hippopotamus Bite?
With a 1,800 PSI or 8,100 Newtons bite force, it comes as no surprise that the hippopotamus has one of the world’s strongest bite forces. This bite force is way greater than a lion’s, which creates a bite force of 650 PSI and also surpasses a polar bear’s bite force of 1,200 PSI.
Hippopotamuses can open their jaws to an impressive 150 to 180 degrees during an aggressive display of power, showing off their razor-sharp teeth. In this horrific image, only the large incisors and canines are visible, protruding over a foot in length. With a ferocious bite and distinct jaw size, a hippopotamus can easily cut a human body in half in just a single bite.
How Long Are a Hippopotamus’ Teeth?
The front teeth of hippopotamuses can grow up to an impressive 1.2 feet long, while the canines or tusks, can grow to 1.5 feet, making the hippopotamus hold the record of having the largest teeth among land mammals.
Male hippopotamuses have larger teeth than females, and these are often shown in an aggressive display of dominance. Despite their plant-based diet, male hippopotamuses often fight each other for food and mates, and these tusks are great weaponry during a fight.
Do Hippopotamus Teeth Continuously Grow?
A hippopotamus’ front teeth and tusks continuously grow throughout its lifetime, but its premolars and molars don’t. Even though their cheek teeth are protected by enamel, they are still vulnerable to wear. By grinding too much, a hippopotamus’ molars can become too worn and may hinder them from eating properly, which can lead to starvation.
Do Hippopotamuses Bite Humans?
Hippos are one of the most aggressive animals on the planet. They may be herbivores, but they are naturally dangerous. In Africa, they kill roughly 500 people each year with their huge jaws alone. However, this species of water-dwelling mammal is at risk, and its population is alarmingly falling.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © PhotocechCZ/Shutterstock.com
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