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A Guide to Shark Teeth

There are nearly 500 known species of sharks living in the world’s oceans today. Sharks are considered apex predators that are at the top of marine food chains. They have the most powerful jaws of any animal in the world. Sharks have unique jaws as unlike most animals, both their upper and lower jaws move. When a shark bites something, they bite first with the lower jaw and then with their upper jaw. Shark teeth vary based on species and diet.

Over their lifetime, sharks shed their teeth continuously and can have more than 20,000 teeth. While shark teeth vary by species and diet, there are four main types including needle-like, dense flattened, non-functional, and pointed lower.

Types of Shark Teeth

  • Some shark species have dense flattened teeth that are used mainly for crushing food such as crustaceans and bivalves. Some examples of sharks with dense flattened teeth include angel sharks and nurse sharks. Sharks with dense flattened teeth are often found at the bottom of the ocean floor where they find much of their food. The flat teeth make cracking open shells easier.
  • Shark species including bull sharks and blue sharks have needle-like teeth. These teeth are often used to feed on fish or other small sharks and are very effective for grasping slippery meals. Sharks with needle-like teeth will also feed on prey such as stingrays, squid, flounder, and even other sharks such as smaller hammerheads.
  • One of the most famous types of shark, the Great White shark, has pointed lower teeth with triangular upper teeth. These teeth are particularly useful for cutting prey such as large mammals and fish. The teeth have serrated edges that allow the sharks to essentially cut their pray into smaller pieces that are easier to swallow.
  • Some sharks have what are known as non-functional teeth. Species such as the whale shark, and basking shark, that are plankton feeders, have teeth that are basically non-functional. Sharks with non-functional teeth filter feed, similarly to some species of whales, and therefore don’t really need functional teeth for eating.

How Shark Teeth Are Counted

Sharks can have multiple rows of teeth, effecting how they are counted. Rows of shark teeth are counted along the jaw line, while series of teeth are counted from the front of the jaw moving inward. Bull sharks, for example, can have seven series, and fifty rows of teeth however most sharks on average have about fifteen rows of teeth. Research has shown that sharks lose at least one tooth each week but the rows and series of teeth means that the lost tooth is normally replaced within a day.

A shark’s teeth can tell a lot about the animal, and many sharks are identified by both counting teeth and observing their shape. Fossilized shark teeth have also given scientists lots of insight on shark species of the past. Sometimes, DNA can be extracted from shark teeth and jaws, allowing scientists to conduct population studies. Ultimately, studying shark teeth helps scientists learn about shark feeding habits, mechanisms, and evolutionary habits.

How Shark Teeth Are Used By Humans

Throughout history, shark teeth have commonly been used for making tools and weapons. Tools commonly made from shark teeth include those used for food preparation and wood carving. Daggers and clubs were also made using shark teeth. Remains of shark tooth weapons have been found throughout the Americas.

Sharks are fascinating creatures and scientists continue working to learn more about them. To learn more about shark teeth and sharks in general, visit the pages listed below.

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