When you’re living it up on a tropical vacation, you’re bound to find some pretty exciting teeth washed up on the water’s shore. How do you know if you’ve just encountered the tooth of a megalodon, small shark, crocodile, or something else? Identifying a tooth isn’t always an easy job, but don’t stress! We’ve got all things shark teeth, crocodile teeth, megalodon teeth, and every type in between covered.
Identifying Shark Teeth
Even if you’re convinced the pearly white in your hand is a shark tooth, you’re not done investigating yet. There are tons of different kinds of sharks, all with varying shapes, colors, and teeth sizes. Some of the most popular shark teeth you can find are those of:
- Tiger sharks
- Otodus sharks
- Lemon sharks
- Great White sharks
- Bull sharks
Megalodons are extinct now, but they remain one of the biggest, scariest, and most powerful creatures ever to grace the ocean. You can still find a fossilized megalodon tooth today, as fossils of these shark teeth are relatively common to find. Megalodon teeth filled their mouths to the brim; they had about five rows of them, adding up to about 276 teeth in total. They’re probably the easiest to identify since they’re so huge compared to other shark teeth. The largest megalodon tooth ever found was 6.9 inches long, almost three times longer than the average tooth of a modern great white shark. Since their mouth was almost 10 feet wide, they likely had the most powerful bite of all time. They used to eat whales for breakfast.
When identifying teeth, remember that megalodon teeth can range between dark gray, brown, or black. The megalodon teeth usually are a heart shape and can vary anywhere from three to almost seven inches in size. Check out our incredible collection of megalodon teeth and browse our various shapes and sizes.
Tiger Shark Teeth
Unlike a megalodon tooth, when you try to identify the tooth of a tiger shark, be on the lookout for its short, deeply notched blades. They’re the defining quality of this species of shark tooth. The tooth blades’ shoulders also feature sharp serrations that the shark uses to crack the shells of clams and sea turtles. These shark teeth are typically about one to two inches in size. Tiger sharks have strange-looking teeth; they are short, wide, and robust looking. The blades are covered with serrations. These shark teeth make it possible to eat just about anything, including:
- car tires
- license plates
- a coop of chickens
The shark teeth are generally tan or light brown. You can identify the tooth by looking out for its unique appearance.
Otodus Shark Teeth
The Otodus obliquus was a prehistoric mackerel shark that was living around fifty to sixty million years ago. It wasn’t as big as the megalodon tooth, but it still had a whopping size. It’s hard to believe there are still traces of these shark teeth on Earth. These sharks reached between thirty and forty feet in length and were scary predators. They had long, sharp daggers for teeth, and we’re quite glad these shark teeth aren’t floating around attached to their owner these days. The largest Otodus shark tooth was four inches, but they’re usually between one and three inches long. Our vast collection of Otodus shark tooth fossils comes from the islands off the coast of Morocco.
Lemon Shark Teeth
As much as we wish lemon shark teeth were bright yellow like the fruit, they’re usually light tan or brown. The shark gets its name from its sandy yellowish body. This color helps them hide from predators and disguise themselves in the sand. Their teeth don’t have serrations. They’re also slightly angled and have small blades. Identify the tooth by looking for its size; lemon shark teeth are generally about 0.75 inches long. Even though these shark teeth aren’t as massive as megalodon teeth, lemon sharks weigh up to 400 pounds and have a pretty big appetite. They mostly snack on other fish, and the shape of the shark tooth helps catch their prey in no time.
Great White Shark Teeth
Great white sharks are probably the sharks that always come to mind when you’re thinking about the creatures. Thanks, Jaws. People think great whites are the closest thing we have to modern-day megalodon teeth. They measure up to twenty feet and can weigh a whopping 5,000 pounds. They are vast and intimidating, and their teeth definitely fit the role, too. Even though they’re not as massive as megalodon teeth, you can identify their teeth by their sharp shape; their jaws contain rows of serrated teeth (like steak knives).
The great white uses its shark teeth to munch on plenty of things, like:
- sea lions
- small whales
Don’t worry; we were just kidding about the last one. Great whites don’t consider humans a source of food. Despite the hype (thanks to Hollywood), shark attacks are super rare. You’re more likely to get killed in a bicycle accident than by a shark. Great whites are found globally in near-shore and off-shore temperate waters. Sometimes they can be found in tropical waters, but never in arctic waters. You’re most likely to find a great white in the Western U.S., Eastern U.S., South Africa, and Australia. They have a white underbelly and a grey dorsal side.
Bull Shark Teeth
Bull sharks are a lot smaller than great whites. They’re medium-sized sharks, spanning from 7.5-10 feet in length and ranging from 200 to 500 pounds. These sharks have thick, stout bodies and long, pectoral fins. Their top is gray, and the bottom of them is white. You can spot them by looking out for the dark tips on their fins. They range closer to the warm, shallow water where people swim rather than far out in the ocean. These creatures aren’t picky eaters; they’ll eat anything from fish and other sharks to birds and turtles.
Since their bodies are smaller, their teeth are, too. This shark tooth is only one inch in length. When you’re trying to identify teeth of a bull shark, look out for its flat and broad blades that are narrow towards the top. These shark teeth make for an aggressive bite; they don’t play around when they’re hangry. You might find a tooth from a bull shark that is brown, gray, or white.
Other Animal Teeth
Sharks and megalodon teeth aren’t the only species with an interesting set of chompers. You can identify the teeth of many different animals, including:
Each animal has unique teeth to help them survive in its natural environment. Once you know how to identify the teeth of each species, you’ll be a better tooth expert than your dentist.
Discovering Dolphin Teeth
Who doesn’t love dolphins? They are the cutest! If swimming with dolphins is on your bucket list, you’ll love learning all the ins and outs of how to identify their teeth. Bottlenose dolphins, in particular, have about 80-100 teeth. Even though they have lots of teeth, these creatures actually don’t use all of them to chew food. Instead, most dolphins use their teeth to grab, grip and secure their prey before swallowing it whole. All of their teeth are the same size and shape in the upper and lower jaw. Their tooth shape is perfect for grasping their favorite snacks, fish, and squid. They like to swallow their food headfirst (you’re welcome for putting that image in your head). They’re not as vicious as megalodon teeth, but we still don’t want to get bit by them.
Sometimes, these creatures do bite their food, and in rare cases, they bite humans, too. When they’re born, their teeth are still embedded in their gums, like most other mammals. You can start to identify the teeth within the first five weeks of their life. Dolphins need to be careful with their teeth because they don’t grow back once they’re lost.
How to Identify Crocodile Teeth
We don’t know about you, but crocodile teeth give us the heebie-jeebies! Even though the sight of crocodiles and their teeth could cause weeks of nightmares, they’re such fascinating creatures to learn about. They can live anywhere from thirty-five to seventy-five years. Look out for crocodile teeth in tropical areas of Asia, Australia, Africa, and the Americas. Typically, you can identify their teeth near rivers, lakes, wetlands, or some saltwater regions.
Crocodiles are one hungry species! They eat insects, small frogs, lizards, crustaceans, fish, and small mammals in the wild. Saltwater crocodiles like to use their crocodile teeth to snack on crabs, pigs, buffalo, birds, and even humans. Rumor has it that they will eat anything they can outswim or overpower. Big crocodile teeth help the animal eat giant mammals and birds, but they’re not too picky. They will help themselves to fish and snails, too. During difficult times, they will scavenge for anything they can get their crocodile teeth on.
Crocodile teeth and jaws are might and specially designed to grab and hold their prey. To identify their teeth, keep in mind that they are colonial and serve to penetrate and hold rather than to cut through food and chew it. The crocodile’s teeth only allow them to tear and swallow things. They can be very sharp as well, just like megalodon teeth. Crocodile teeth are polyphyodonty, meaning they can replace each of their eighty teeth up to fifty times in their lifespan. Since their crocodile teeth are continually being replaced, they can go through over 3,000 in their lifetime. The crocodile teeth are hollow, so new ones can continuously grow inside the old ones. If we ate like crocodiles, we’d probably need replaceable teeth, too.
It’s confusing to figure out if there’s even a difference between crocodile teeth and alligator teeth. Still, we have everything you need to know about how to identify the teeth and decipher between the two of them. Alligators only reside in two countries on Earth: the US and China. In the United States, people can expect to spot alligators in North Carolina, Texas, Louisiana, and other southern states. Alligators in China are endangered and live in the Yangtze River valley.
Unlike crocodiles, alligators are actually scared of humans. They rarely attack humans, so you don’t need to be scared if you spot an alligator during your vacation to Florida. Who are we kidding, though? Who wouldn’t be shaking in their boots at the sight of an alligator? At least you’ll know the creatures are more scared of you than you are of them.
Alligators follow a diet of mostly insects, small fish, amphibians, and other invertebrates. When they become adult alligators, they eat snakes, birds, turtles, rough fish, and small mammals. A mature alligator has 80 conical shaped teeth to help catch its prey; just under half as many as megalodon teeth. You can identify the tooth by remembering they don’t have any molars to crush and grind their food, so they swallow it whole. Just like crocodiles, alligator teeth will be replaced when they’re lost, causing them to go through up to 2,000-3,000 teeth in their lifetime.
Human vs. Animal Teeth
Now that you’ve learned about a ton of different animals’ teeth, how do your own set of chompers compare? There are some significant differences between animal and human teeth. Humans get two sets of teeth in their lifetime, baby teeth and adult teeth. Some animals, like dolphins, may only have one set of teeth to last their entire lives, while others like crocodiles and alligators can replace their teeth with the drop of a hat.
Human teeth have evolved a lot over the few thousand years or so. Historians can use fossilized teeth to gain insight into the lifestyle of our ancestors. It’s believed that humans have smaller teeth now than we did in the past, and we used to have more animal-like teeth back when we were hunters and gatherers. Humans have thirty-two teeth at most. Now that you’re an expert at identifying teeth, you know there’s plenty of animals with way more teeth than that. However, giraffes are humans’ teeth twins, being the only other animal to have 32 teeth. Hopefully, a human tooth won’t be among your oceanside vacation tooth finds, but at least you know how to identify the tooth just in case.
Keeping these characteristics to identify a tooth found on a nice beach walk will make your mornings that much more exciting. Maybe you’ll find a megalodon tooth, shark tooth, crocodile tooth, or another fantastic tooth from the creatures of nature.