Teeth are essential for many different animals and for more reasons than you may realise.

The most obvious is of course for eating. The type of teeth an animal has depends on what it eats so we can tell whether they are a carnivore (meat eater), herbivore (plant eater) or omnivore (eats plant and meat) by what teeth they have. It is this variation in teeth that makes mammals heterodonts, meaning having teeth of different types.

Herbivores such as cows and goats have incisors at the front to snip grass and then flat, wide teeth further back for chewing. Generally speaking carnivores need sharper teeth to cut off chunks of meat, which they can swallow. Omnivores, eating both types of food have an assortment of both.

Throughout the carnivore section we have carnivores and omnivores so we can look at a few examples of how they may differ in dentition.

Caracal at Wingham Wildlife Park, Kent

Cats

Cats are the most obvious carnivores on the section and make up a large part of it. They are known as obligate carnivores which means they need meat and only meat to fulfil their dietary requirements. Most have 30 teeth in total which are sharp for ripping off chunks of meat to be swallowed whole. At the front they have incisors which are useful for picking up objects or nibbling. They are framed by the canines. These 4 teeth are vital for gripping onto prey and if you look into Troy or Blade’s mouth as they yawn, when you next come to Wingham, you may notice there is a gap around them. This means they can get more of their prey into their mouth so they stand a better chance of holding onto it as it tries to escape.

From there we move further back into the mouth to find the molars and premolars. Premolars are sharper and are used for shearing meat, while molars are flatter and are grinders. Cats have more premolars than molars in fact they only have 4 molars, one for each side on top and bottom jaw.

Otters

Another carnivore on the section is the smooth coated otter. Otters are fish specialists which means the majority of their diet is fish. They will however, also snack on amphibians and reptiles. They have incisors and canines like the cats both of which will help them catch fish. However, they have a lot more molars as they do more chewing. Well maybe not Pong (and this is something you will definitely notice on our otter experience!)

Smooth coated otters at Wingham Wildlife Park, Kent. Teeth blog

Join me next time for some more teeth, because what could play more of a role on the carnivore section!

About Sarah - Head of Carnivores

When our previous head of carnivores moved on to another job, Sarah stepped up from her position as senior keeper in this section to take charge of the section as a whole. Her love for cats doesn't stop at work as she's also a cat owner at home.

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  1. What big teeth you have Volume 2 - Animal Experiences At Wingham Wildlife Park In Kent

    […] last time we talked about carnivore teeth but they don’t make up the whole section. We also have a few omnivores. So while omnivores need […]