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All the better to bite you with...

Teeth of juvenile dwarf caiman

For many people, this is perhaps a little too close to a crocodilian's most infamous assets - it's fearsome array of teeth. However, teeth are extremely common throughout the animal kingdom. Crocodilians get a bad reputation partly because they keep their teeth visible at all times, rather than hiding them behind a set of lips like mammalian predators do. As we know, they also have great propensity to use them in a most effective manner.

These amber teeth belong to a juvenile Cuvier's dwarf caiman, Paleosuchus palpebrosus. You can see that each tooth has a fairly simple design: sharp and conical. Juveniles use these teeth to grasp and impale small prey like insects and fish. These teeth also perforate the skin or outer casing of a meal, which makes it easier for the powerful stomach acids to digest the prey's interior once swallowed.

Throughout its life, the caiman replaces its teeth regularly: several times a year when young, once a year when it gets older. Each successive tooth is larger than the one it replaces, and also slightly blunter. This is because the caiman develops a stronger bite as it gets larger, which means the teeth don't need to be needle-sharp. This is more pronounced in many species of crocodile where the back teeth can become quite rounded and blunt. These are ideal for crushing and splitting open hard casings and shell (eg. snails, crabs). The front teeth always remain long and conical, however - great for puncturing and holding onto struggling prey items. This is barely scratching the surface of crocodilian teeth, but they are not as undifferentiated as they are often made out to be.



Do you have a photograph which you'd like to become the Pic of the Month? Submit it and I'll select the best. The best photograph I receive each year will receive a prize - an Ilfochrome print - to be awarded in December.


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