Humans are classified as heterodonts, which basically means we have varied teeth that serve different purposes. For example, we use our canines and incisors for biting but our molars for chewing.
In the animal kingdom, teeth come in all shapes and sizes, each of them for a specific purpose. And sometimes, like in the case of the herbivorous gorilla, the reason for these sharp teeth might go beyond just being able to eat meat.
What are some of the animals with the sharpest teeth?
The animal with the sharpest known teeth ever is the jawless conodont, though these eel-like creatures are extinct now. Some other animals with incredibly sharp teeth include killer whales, vampire bats, sea lampreys, hippopotamuses, leopards and big cats, polar bears, warthogs, tiger sharks, primates, and piranhas- and I’m just getting started!
Below, we’ll take a closer look at these animals with sharp teeth, including what they use them for and how they keep them so sharp.
Land Animals With Sharp Teeth
When it comes to sharp teeth in the animal kingdom, there are a lot of contenders. So, I’ve separated them into two sections- land animals and marine animals.
Let’s start with some sharp-toothed animals from the land.
Vampire bats may have tiny teeth, but they are also incredibly sharp. Since vampire bats feed exclusively on blood from other animals, their teeth must be sharp enough to penetrate animal skin and the hides of pigs, cattle, and horses that they are known to feed on.
After their teeth pierce the skin, vampire bats secrete an anticoagulant called draculin that makes blood flow more freely. This agent has also been used in human medicine to develop drugs that break up blood clots, something that would be very beneficial to stroke victims.
Vampire bats also don’t drink blood, as many people believe. Instead, they lick an animal’s blood off the skin. This is why the anticoagulant is so important- otherwise, they wouldn’t be able to feed as efficiently.
Vampire bats also lick the wound and their saliva is known to numb the area, which helps keep animals asleep while they are feeding. They share these features with leeches, which are also known for their blood-feeding habits.
In the case of many animals like warthogs, their tusks are actually modified teeth that grow from the mouth. These extended teeth might be used for defense or foraging. For warthogs, their long tusks are used for digging, fighting rivals, and even defending themselves from predators.
A warthog’s tusks never stop growing. They have two sets; a longer pair upper pair and a shorter lower pair. While the upper tusks are longer, it’s the shorter set of canines that are razor-sharp.
Every time that a warthog closes its mouth, the lower tusks rub against the upper tusks. They sharpen the tusks the way that a whetstone sharpens a knife. This ensures that the warthog’s teeth stay sharp, no matter how often they are being used.
Musk Deer and Water Deer
Musk deer and water deer have a few differences, but both are known for the sharp, fang-like teeth that protrude from their mouths. Their teeth can grow up to 4 inches long, making them have one of the longest teeth in the animal kingdom, especially when you consider how much they protrude from their mouths.
While these fangs look absolutely nothing like the antlers you’d associate other deer with, they serve a similar purpose. Only the males have sharp fangs and they are known to use them to fight with other males, particularly during the breeding season.
One hypothesis is that these animals have tusks as weapons instead of antlers because they spend a lot of time moving through thick underbrush. Since there isn’t as much room to swing a set of antlers around, these long canine teeth would be much more effective weapons.
Some species of deer also have both short antlers and elongated canine teeth.
Wolves have 42 sharp teeth, including 2-inch long canines and molars that are strong enough to crush bone. They are pack animals that kill anything from rabbits and rodents to elk, bison, and deer.
When taking down larger prey, wolves rely on their sharp teeth when they go in for the kill. They often attack an animal’s throat, latching on as it pierces with its canines. Then, the wolf shakes its head back and forth to kill the animal.
Once the animal is taken down, the wolf and other pack members feed. They use their razor-sharp teeth to tear through flesh and can even shear meat away from the bone.
While wolves and domesticated dogs may have the same number of teeth, it’s worth noting that the teeth of dogs are nowhere near as sharp. They also don’t have the same jaw strength as wolves. Likely, domesticated dogs don’t have these features because they are more scavengers than they are hunters.
The largest, heaviest poisonous snake in Africa is the Gaboon viper, which has fangs that grow up to 2 inches long. It isn’t the length that makes them so sharp though, it’s the angle of the tip of their fangs.
Gaboon vipers are not the only snake with incredibly sharp fangs. All poisonous snake species have thin, sharp fangs that they use to pierce through the skin of their prey. This includes many viper species, adders, cottonmouths, rattlesnakes, and copperheads, to name a few.
Gila Monsters, Komodo Dragons, and Other Sharp-Toothed Lizards
There are several large lizard species with mouthfuls of sharp, dangerous teeth. Komodo dragons are the largest living species of lizard and they have about 60 teeth, each of them really sharp and about 1 inch long. They use these teeth to rip chunks of flesh off their prey, which they then swallow whole.
Gila monsters spend a lot of their time burrowing in the desert, so it’s unlikely for humans to come across them. They are the largest known lizard species living in North America and they have a mouthful of sharp teeth to boot. Their teeth are thin and come to points, similar to the way a needle does.
There are also several species of monitor lizards with really sharp teeth. The black tree monitor, for example, is known for using its sharp teeth to rip off pieces of flesh to swallow, just like other large lizards. However, there are over 50 species of monitor lizards and not all of them have sharp teeth.
My final mention in this category (though there are likely other species of lizards with sharp teeth) is the iguana. These popular pets can look toothless at first but they have small, sharp serrated teeth that are perfect for ripping apart plants.
Anyone who has been bitten by an iguana can also attest to how sharp their teeth are and interestingly, an iguana’s teeth grow with them, unlike a human’s teeth that stay the same size their whole life.
Hippopotamuses are one of the fiercest animals on the African continent. While not all hippos grow to the same size, the largest males can be more than 10 feet long and over 9,000 pounds. Even the average female grows to 3,000 pounds.
While they might look cute when they’re floating on top of the water and have a primarily herbivorous diet, hippopotami are actually really dangerous. They are temperamental creatures and responsible for more annual deaths than any other land mammal, about 500 per year.
Despite their herbivorous diet, hippos don’t have the same flat, grinding teeth commonly seen in these types of animals. Instead, they have flat molars and premolars in the back, in addition to 8 sharp incisors and 4 even sharper canine teeth.
A hippo’s longest pair of teeth protrude upward from the jaw and can grow to 20 inches long. They’re known for using them to fight with other hippopotamuses in the wild.
Leopards and Other Big Cats
Snow leopards are the first on our list because compared to other big cats in the Panthera genus jaguars, tigers, and lions, snow leopards have the sharpest teeth. Their teeth are only a little over 1 inch long, but they are sharper and more slender than the teeth of other big cats.
Jaguars are another feline predator with incredibly sharp teeth. Their teeth and bite are so strong that they’ve been known to kill and eat armored reptiles like crocodiles. Additionally, they are known to bite through the skulls of animals that it takes down.
When it comes to both Bengal and Siberian tigers, it’s possible for their long, sharp canine teeth to grow to 2.5-3 inches long. They use their sharp teeth and ferocious bite to take down deer, moose, goats, cows, and even elephant calves.
Of course, these are only some big cats with sharp teeth. Big cats are carnivores and their sharp, pointed teeth give them the ability to tear and chew through flesh.
For example, when comparing the teeth of a human to those of a lion, we both have flat incisors and sharper canine teeth. In the back of the mouth, however, humans have molars better suited to crushing food, while lions have sharp, pointed teeth for breaking down flesh.
Gorillas and Other Primates
Even though gorillas are herbivorous, they have several long canine teeth. Rather than for tearing or chewing meat, gorillas’ canine teeth are used for showing dominance, particularly among males.
Gorillas live in family groups of 5 to 10 but can also have up to 50 members that are led by a single gorilla that generally holds his position for many years.
If it comes down to it, gorillas may even use these teeth to fight with other gorillas or defend themselves or their position in the family group.
Additionally, gorillas are known for eating hard foods like bamboo, tree bark, and heavy twigs. Their sharp canine teeth help them bite into and crush these harder foods.
Gorillas get a special mention because of how large and sharp their canines may be, but they are not the only primates with sharp teeth. Primates are classified as heterodonts, meaning they have a variety of teeth shapes suited to different purposes. Even humans are heterodonts, having biting teeth toward the front of their mouths and grinding teeth toward the back.
Baboons are another primate worth mentioning. Baboons are the largest monkey and have impressive canine teeth that grow up to two inches long- that’s the same as a lion’s!
They often use their long teeth to fight other males in dominance shows and they have implications in mating as well since those baboons with the longest teeth are most likely to reproduce and pass those genes along.
Like gorillas, camels are a great example of how even though an animal is herbivorous, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it has dull, flat teeth.
Camels are fairly common in Middle Eastern countries and they’re also known for biting their handlers. While this is rarely fatal, there have been several studies done on the severity of camel bites.
One of the reasons for the severity is a camel’s incredibly sharp teeth. Camel teeth are both sharp and strong. They come to enough of a point that they can even bite into a human skull.
While camels aren’t typically vicious, males are most likely to bite during their mating season. Additionally, these bites pose a serious threat in Middle Eastern countries where the camel population is high. Those most likely to be bitten by camels include handlers and camel jockeys.
Marine Animals With Sharp Teeth
The animals that I’ve mentioned so far really only crack the surface when it comes to animals with sharp teeth. Next, we’ll take a look at marine animals that have sharp teeth.
Another marine animal with some of the sharpest teeth is the orca or killer whale. Killer whales have large, conical-shaped teeth that easily rip through the rough scales of sharks and other prey.
If their sharp teeth weren’t enough, an orca’s teeth also perfectly fit together. When their mouths are closed, their top teeth fit into the spaces between their bottom teeth, and whatever they are biting down on really doesn’t stand a chance.
Something interesting about orcas, though, is that they can experience severe tooth wear over the course of years. Some killer whales even get down to the nubs.
This may or may not happen depending on the particular orca, where it lives, and its diet. Orcas that eat primarily sharks or slurp up herrings are most likely to experience tooth wear from the hard scales rubbing against their teeth.
By contrast, tooth wear is less common in those orca species that use their teeth to tear into flesh like that of large salmon.
Tiger Sharks and Silky Sharks
While certain species of sharks are known for having a mouthful of teeth, teeth from sharks like the great white and megalodons are serrated. This means that they aren’t quite as tapered as the teeth of some other shark species and while they are sharp, they aren’t as sharp as some other shark’s teeth.
In one study, researchers attached shark teeth to a chainsaw to determine how sharp they were. They cut into pieces of salmon using a reciprocating power saw, which moves similarly to the way sharks shake prey back and forth to break off pieces. Of the five sharks in the study, silky sharks and tiger sharks had the sharpest teeth.
Even though the teeth of tiger sharks and silky sharks were sharpest, they dulled quicker with use. Fortunately for sharks, they are one of the animal species with multiple sets of teeth, so they always have teeth in waiting to replace those that are worn down or broken.
Of course, while tiger sharks and silky sharks are believed to have the sharpest teeth, there are several other species of shark that have sharp teeth. Sharks like the goblin shark, blue shark, bull shark, and mako shark all have long, needle-like teeth that they use to pierce and kill their prey, which might consist of stingrays,
Dragonfish are the stuff of nightmares. They live deep in the ocean and have slender, snake-like bodies that can grow to a foot long.
While they may not be the size of some of the bigger creatures of the deep, what makes them scary is their mouthful of razor-sharp teeth. Dragonfish have teeth even sharper than those of a piranha– and they are transparent!
Their sharp teeth help them pierce prey, which helps them kill since their jaws are not very strong. Dragonfish even have teeth on their tongues and their jaws are so large they can eat prey about half the size of their body.
The transparency of dragonfish teeth helps them ambush prey. They have a bioluminescent lure that draws small fish in and then they snap their jaws shut around them when they get close.
Sea lampreys may have one of the strangest mouths in the animal kingdom. They don’t even have a jaw. Instead, their mouth is circular and resembles a suction cup. It’s also filled with rows and rows of sharp, horn-shaped teeth arranged in rings.
Sea lampreys resemble eels, but they are actually closer related to sharks. They have a skeleton made up of cartilage rather than bone like fish and grow up to 12 to 24 inches long.
Lampreys are parasites and they use their teeth to latch onto host fish. Then, they use their rough tongue to break through a fish’s scales so it can feed on its blood.
Looking at the deepsea lizardfish, it’s pretty obvious why it made the list. They have a mouthful of incredibly sharp, needle-like teeth. Plus, like in the case of the dragonfish, these fish have transparent teeth that give them an advantage for ambushing prey.
The deepsea lizardfish is known to lie in waiting, sometimes at depths of more than 11,000 feet, and snap its ferocious teeth closed around prey that gets too close.
These fish grow up to 2 feet long and while their teeth are incredibly sharp, they are also flexible. The teeth bend backward toward the dragonfish’s throat, which helps with trapping prey once the lizardfish snaps its jaw shut around it.
While deepsea lizardfish have many adaptations for an ambush predator, including big, dark eyes that they use to look for prey while they lie in waiting, food is harder to come by at the depths that they live in.
They also may not see other lizardfish very frequently. This may have played a role in the lizardfish developing both male and female parts. As hermaphrodites, they can reproduce with any member of their species that they come across.
Titan triggerfish can often be seen swimming near coral reefs, though they aren’t necessarily something a deep sea diver wants to encounter. These fish have incredibly sharp teeth, so sharp, in fact, that they are known to break off pieces of coral that they eat.
The reason triggerfish teeth are so sharp is because of how strong they are. Most animals with strong teeth have wide teeth that don’t break easily, but the triggerfish has teeth that are slim, long, and incredibly sharp.
Additionally, triggerfish get a little territorial when other fish and divers enter the area they live in, especially during nesting season. Before attacking, the triggerfish often moves its dorsal fin like a trigger. Divers are known to be bitten by triggerfish, though they do not cause extreme injury or fatality.
Leopard seals are one of the largest predators in the Antarctic. While their teeth are only about one inch long, they are sharp enough to pierce the scales and flesh of the animals they prey on, including birds, penguins, fish, cephalopods, and even smaller seals.
Seals use their teeth to grab onto prey and kill it by smashing it on top of the water. This also helps break their prey into smaller pieces that they can swallow.
A leopard seal’s sharp teeth interlock, which also helps diversify their diet. Scientists have observed them filtering and eating krill from the water like whales.
Crabeater seals take this a step further, with their highly specialized sharp teeth that work as efficiently as a whale’s baleen plates at filtering krill from the water.
While polar bears might be thought of as land animals, they’re classified as marine animals because of how much time they spend in the water and on the ice. Plus, their primary food source comes from the water, so they are very dependent on the sea.
Polar bears have the sharpest teeth compared to other bear species because they are primarily carnivorous. Other bear species are more likely to be omnivores and have a variety of teeth, rather than just sharp teeth designed for cutting through meat.
Additionally, polar bears use their longer, sharper teeth to kill big prey. They often rely on their ability to camouflage in the Arctic to ambush prey, especially seals. Polar bears are known to wait patiently on the ice for a seal to come up for air and then use their long, sharp teeth to kill it before eating.
While they’re no dragonfish, the teeth of piranhas are still incredibly sharp. Plus, unlike the dragonfish, they have powerful jaws and a bite force that is 35 times their body weight, or 70 pounds of pressure per square inch.
These carnivorous fish travel in schools and while people in the Amazon try to avoid them, they aren’t quite the ferocious killers they have been rumored to be. Piranhas actually rarely attack or kill humans and many times, those that do attack are just trying to protect their eggs.
One of the reasons that piranha’s teeth are so sharp is the way they are designed. They have a triangular shape, with their lower teeth being sharper than the top set. Together, their two sets of teeth interlock like the teeth of a saw blade and they are known for thrashing back and forth like sharks once they have their teeth locked onto something.
Piranha teeth have a similar enamel structure to that of sharks. They are also known for regularly replacing their teeth, which keeps them razor sharp. Unlike sharks who replace their teeth one at a time, though, piranhas replace their whole interlocking set at once.
Payara fish have often been called “saber-tooth” fish because of the long, sharp teeth that protrude from their lower jaws. These fangs can get as long as 4-6 inches and are likely the reason this payara has nicknames like “vampire fish”.
Payara fish are popular among sport anglers, especially because of their aggressive nature and the fight that they put up when hooked. They are just as aggressive when they spot prey. Often, payara will lunge at them and pierce them with their long fangs, which help hold the prey in place while the payara shreds it to pieces.
Waterfowl are typically known for having no teeth at all. Instead, they tend to swallow prey whole and have ridges along the edge of their bills that help them grip fish.
Mergansers, also called goosanders, are often referred to as sawbills. There are six species of sawbills, all of them characterized by their unique bills, complete with teeth.
Sawbills like the goosander have sharp teeth that line their bills instead of ridges. Additionally, their bills tend to have a longer, narrower shape, whereas other species of waterfowl have rounder bills.
The final marine animal on our list with sharp teeth is the walrus. Walruses are carnivores and while some of them eat fish and seals, most of them prefer smaller animals like mollusks, soft-shell crabs, and invertebrates including cephalopods and marine worms.
Even though their mouth teeth are sharp, I’m here to talk about their tusks. A walrus’ tusks are made from ivory like an elephant’s and they are also incredibly strong. Their tusks serve a lot of purposes, particularly letting them puncture ice like an ice pick so they can pull their large bodies out of the water.
However, this isn’t their only use. Both male and female walruses have these long, sharp tusks and they may also be used for cutting breathing holes in the ice, fighting other walruses, and defending themselves against predators.
Extinct Animals With Sharp Teeth
Before we go, here are a few more animals with incredibly sharp teeth that no longer walk the Earth (or swim the sea) today.
These animals deserve an honorable mention for their sharp (and sometimes terrifying) teeth.
The animal with the sharpest teeth actually holds a Guinness World Record– and it doesn’t even have a jaw! The extinct conodont lived during the Precambrian era. Despite not having a jaw, scientists believe the conodont may have been one of the first vertebrates to develop teeth.
Conodonts are described as eel-like marine creatures and while it was believed that they ate plankton at one time, it’s now known that they likely went after bigger prey. Their lack of a jaw didn’t stop them from chowing down because instead, they relied on their razor-sharp teeth.
A conodont’s teeth taper down to a point that is 1/20th the size of a human hair, so it’s no surprise that they are razor sharp. Rather than chomping down to break down food, these teeth slice side-to-side with great efficiency.
Scientists have found fossilized conodont teeth all over the world. While it’s hard to pinpoint why anything happens in the animal kingdom, it’s also believed competition for prey from animals with more jaw strength and harder teeth may have been the reasons they went extinct during the Triassic era.
Conodont teeth were incredibly sharp, but also would have been brittle near the ends and likely to break. Breakage was even more common because conodonts would have relied on their teeth to cut through prey because they didn’t have jaws to make their bite stronger when biting down.
Sabertooth tigers are most well-known for their incredibly long teeth. Though they were smaller than a lion and only grew to about 3 feet tall and around 5.5 feet long, these big cats had two fangs protruding from their mouth that grew an average of 7-8 inches long.
Despite their length, a sabertooth tiger’s fangs are not particularly strong. While it’s hard to hypothesize about an animal that is no longer living, one idea is that they would only use their sharp teeth to kill by slicing through softer flesh like the abdomen or throat.
Biting into a bone with these large fangs may have broken the teeth. So, it’s more likely the sabertooth tiger used these teeth to kill and then ripped the animal apart to eat it using the other sharp teeth in its mouth.
Like the conodont, chainsaw sharks (Helicoprions) have pretty interesting mouths with teeth like nothing seen in living animals. With only fossils and other evidence left behind, scientists can only hypothesize what these sharks used their incredibly unique mouths for.
The thing that makes the teeth of chainsaw sharks so special is that their teeth were attached to a round muscle on the lower half of their jaw. These two-inch-long teeth were incredibly sharp and arranged in a way that resembled a chainsaw, explaining the shark’s common name.
Despite their common name, however, Helicoprions aren’t actually sharks. They are more closely related to the ratfish, which are one branch over from sharks on the family tree.
Their incredibly sharp teeth were curved backward toward their mouths which would likely trap prey. However, while paleontologists have more understanding about how their jaws and teeth were arranged, they still don’t know how Helicoprions were able to eat without teeth on their top jaw.
What Is the Animal With the Sharpest Teeth Ever?
Extinct conodonts have the sharpest known teeth in the animal kingdom. Despite not having a jaw, it’s believed that conodonts were fierce predators. Instead of biting down, their razor-sharp teeth moved side to side as they sliced through prey.
Their teeth are tapered to a point that is just 1/20th the size of a piece of human hair, making them needle-like at the ends and incredibly sharp. Researchers have found fossils of these teeth all over the world, from Canada to Australia.
Which Mammal Has the Sharpest Teeth?
While it’s a sea critter, the mammal with the sharpest teeth is the killer whale. A killer whale’s teeth are so sharp that they can easily pierce through the tough scales of sharks that some species eat.
Which Animal Has the Sharpest Fangs?
When it comes to living animals with the sharpest fangs, the Gaboon viper has 2-inch long fangs that are incredibly narrow, which is essential for piercing through the skin of their prey.
That being said, this only includes animals with traditional fangs. The payara fish and dragonfish could also be contenders!
Which Animal Has the Sharpest Canine Teeth?
The animal with the sharpest canine teeth is likely the snow leopard. Like other big cats, snow leopards rely on their ability to bite down through flesh to kill their prey, sometimes taking down prey that is even bigger than they are.
So, since the snow leopard has sharper, narrower teeth than any of the other big cats, though, it is the winner.
Animals with sharp teeth come from all walks of life- there are even some herbivores like gorillas and camels that have sharp teeth that you might not expect considering their plant-based diets.
When it comes to the sharpest teeth overall, the clear winner is the conodont- though there are plenty of contenders when it comes to non-extinct animals with razor-sharp teeth.
Some land animals with sharp teeth include gorillas, vampire bats, Gila monsters, vipers, hippos, camels, and leopards. Marine animals with sharp teeth include killer whales, payara fish, dragonfish, sea lampreys, and tiger sharks.
Finally, we can’t forget about extinct animals with razor-sharp teeth including conodonts, sabertooth tigers, and chainsaw sharks. Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed learning about all these dangerous bites!