The Teeth
It is the wolf's teeth that people often think of first when asked to describe a wolf. There are many folk tales which add to the ferocious image of wolves. "My, what large teeth you have!" is a line from a familiar children's story. Some legends say that wolves' teeth burn, others say that they even sharpen their teeth before a hunt.  As impressive as a wolf's teeth are, they are often exaggerated in the minds of humans.

From the collection of Beaver Creek Reserve
Photo (c) P. Solfest, 1999
Notice that one of the lower canine tteth is missing.

The teeth of a wolf are adapted for their role as predators. They are similar to that of any other large, meat eating animal such as a lion or tiger. They need large, powerful jaws for attacking and holding on to prey.

Wolves have 42 teeth just like dogs and other canids. Humans have 32 teeth. The largest wolf teeth are the canines, or fangs, which measure over two inches long including the part within the jaw. The canine teeth on the top and bottom of the jaw interlock so that the wolf can grip and hold on to struggling prey. Wolves will aim for the nose, rump or throat of the prey in order to bring it down. Once the wolf has grabbed a hold on the prey, it will use the great strength in its jaw muscles to hang on. The small teeth in front of the mouth are incisors. Once the animal is down, the wolf uses these teeth to shear the meat off bones. The back teeth, or molars, are designed to crush bones and mash the meat. Wolves' teeth are well designed for this hunting machine.

Besides hunting, wolves teeth can serve other purposes as well. Adults carry wolf pups with their teeth. They are also weapons used against other predators or threatening wolves. Wolves also use their teeth to communicate with other animals.  Wolves may show the some of the incisors and canine teeth in a "submissive grin." "Bared teeth" is an early warning of the possibility of an attack, especially if the muzzle is wrinkled. Just before a wolf bites, its mouth will be wide open. Thus teeth play a role in hunting, protection and communication.

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