The wolverine is an animal that resembles a small bear and has earned a ferocious reputation as a top predator in the wild. Contrary to what many people might think, these animals have no resemblance to the fictional hero character Wolverine, and although they might resemble small bears, they are more like weasels – small and very aggressive animals. They are also the official animals of Michigan state in the United States and the mascot for the University of Michigan sports teams.
Wolverines are primarily predatory animals, and because of their well-known aggressive behavior, it is only natural to wonder what it is to be at the receiving end of this aggression. In this article, we will learn what makes a wolverine’s teeth unique, how many sets they get in a lifetime, and how they use them.
Do Newly Born Wolverines Have Teeth?
Baby wolverines are called kits and are born covered in white fur, with closed eyes and no teeth. Because the kits are born without teeth, they stay with their mothers for a few months until they can start to hunt their food; some also remain with their mothers until they are ready to procreate.
Generally, wolverines are omnivores, but they eat more meat than vegetables. Because of their lack of teeth, wolverine kits cannot eat like the older ones within the first few months after their birth. Kits are also born blind and deaf, making it physically impossible for them to go out and get food for themselves. During this period which typically lasts two months or a little over, wolverine kits rely solely on their mothers for food. They survive only on the milk they get from their mothers. After two months, these kits can see and begin to hunt for themselves.
Adult Wolverine Teeth
As established, wolverines are ferocious predators. Although these animals are primarily known to hunt down other animals, you should note that they also eat certain plants and vegetables. Despite their omnivorous nature, wolverines still somehow go for more meat-based diets. Although these animals are active at any time of the day, they are primarily solitary and nocturnal hunters, eating mostly rabbits, rodents, and leftover carrion. Since they need their teeth both to hunt and eat, they have a few different kinds to do the job.
Wolverines have incisor 3/3, canine 1/1, premolar 4/4, and molar 1/2 for all of their 38 teeth.
Wolverines have 12 incisors, six on each row of their jaw. Like most omnivorous mammals, wolverines use their incisors to grab, slice, or cut their daily food. In different animals, incisors have adapted over time to fit their diet, particularly in carnivores, for nipping off the flesh of their prey. The incisors on the outside are always bigger than the ones on the inside.
The canines are right after the incisors, and wolverines have four canine teeth- two on both rows of their jaw. Wolverines use their canine teeth to tear the flesh of their prey. Because these animals often feed on dead animals, usually the carcasses of deer, caribou, and elk, they need their canine teeth to help them grab onto the neck of their prey.
Most carnivorous animals have carnassials, and wolverines are no exception. They use these teeth to slice meat and cut through sinews. These carnassials consist of molars and premolars and are also called shearing teeth. For wolverines, one primary means of killing their prey is suffocation – this is done by holding on to the throat and not letting go. These shearing teeth and powerful jaws also help them crush their prey without much struggle. For wolverines, molars in their upper jaw are rotated 90 degrees inward, making it easy for them to perform fully as predators. This feature is also common in other members of the Mustelidae (weasel family), helping them to crush bones and even consume frozen tissue.
What Do Wolverines Use Their Teeth For?
Wolverines primarily use their teeth for feeding. Their teeth are impressively sharp, making it easy for them to attack and kill their prey. One would think that because of their size, wolverines would go for smaller animals, but the reverse is the case. These animals are also known to attack animals that are at least twice their size, like sheep. In some other areas, wolverines even attack bears. Their strong jaws and teeth make it easy for them to crush their prey and even chew on their bones.
Aside from tearing their prey up, wolverines also use their teeth to attack, particularly their canine and incisors. Because these animals are more commonly found in colder regions, they hunt in advance and have learned to preserve their food in the snow. Also, their teeth have adapted and evolved, making it easy for them to crush frozen carcasses and bones.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © DenisaPro/Shutterstock.com
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- Alaska Kids, Available here: http://www.alaskakids.org/index.cfm/cool%20critters/featured%20critters/medium%20mammals/2623
- Livescience, Available here: https://www.livescience.com/27461-wolverines.html
- The Wolverine Foundation, Available here: http://wolverinefoundation.org/dentition-of-the-wolverine