25 March 2010
When we think of tigers and their incredible hunting technique, we often overlook the evolutionary features that have given these animals such an effortless advantage.
Tigers are packed full of muscles for strength, soft wide paws for stealth and more patience than a kindergarten teacher. They have a fist full of razor sharp weapons on each paw, incredible hearing and an eye for catching even the slightest of movements. Every aspect of a tiger compliments their hunting abilities, from their bone structure to their striped coat. But perhaps the most impressive and important feature to mention is their teeth - all 30 of them!
Tigers have the biggest canines of all felines. Reaching 7cm long, they are the perfect tool for hunting. The four canine teeth at the front of a tiger's mouth are its main weapons for pulling down prey. Due to the space between their front and back teeth, one strike to the throat or neck will deliver a fatal blow as the canines sink deep into the flesh of their prey.
The short sharp teeth in between the canines are called incisors. These are primarily used for pulling off fur and feathers and tearing away chunks of meat.
The back set of upper premolars and lower molars are used for slicing off pieces of meat. The first molar and last premolar are called carnassials and come together in such a way that they form a scissor like motion slicing through skin, flesh and gristle.
Like us, tigers have a set of baby or ‘milk' teeth which begin falling out at around six months old. In most cases, their adult teeth come early to push the milk teeth out, ensuring they always have teeth to hunt and eat with. As tigers age, their teeth turn a caramel colour due to a diet of raw meat.
Tigers rely heavily on their teeth to catch and eat their prey. As they age, the risk of damage is greater; any trauma to their teeth makes hunting and eating very difficult. In some cases where tigers have been caught attacking humans, their dental condition is so poor that it was likely humans were the only option over starvation.
Here at the Zoo our tigers have their teeth checked by keepers daily and have access to veterinary treatment if any health problems arise. Whilst our tigers don't use their teeth for taking down prey items....they still need them for killing the odd toy or two and chewing on keeper's shoes!
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