We are lucky enough to view a vast range of various species of predators at Londolozi. Whether it be above the ground in the form of eagles and other birds of prey, on the ground in the form of lions, leopards, wild dogs, or pythons, along with a variety of other species, and even submerged under water – with crocodiles being the main culprits. Nowhere is safe for the prey!
Apart from the beautiful scales that insulate a crocodile’s body, or their vertical pupils covered by transparent, nictating membranes that allow for improved underwater vision, one of the most striking features of a crocodile must surely be their teeth. After all, a crocodile’s dental assortment is one of the most important weapons in its arsenal.
The species of crocodile that we see at Londolozi is the Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus). On average, a Nile Crocodile will have 64 – 68 sharply pointed teeth. This is roughly 12 less than an alligator, and one of the few differences between these reptiles. Along with an incredibly strong biting force of roughly 3700 psi (pound per square inch), one of the strongest biting forces out there, there is little to no chance of any prey being able to escape the jaws of this apex predator.
This blog was partially inspired by a question that I was asked a few weeks ago;
“How many sets of teeth do crocodiles have?”
Seeming as though they can live for up to 75 years, these same 64-68 teeth surely can’t last their entire lifetime?
Crocodiles have what are called polyphyodont teeth, meaning that they can be replaced if one should fall out or decay, in a similar manner to how shark teeth are replaced. New teeth begin to form underneath the gum of a functional tooth and will push through the gum should the original tooth be destroyed or weakened. On average it takes about 20 months for a full mouth of teeth to be replaced, if you do the maths that means that a 75-year-old crocodile may have had 45 sets of teeth!
That was a bit of a long-winded answer… In short, there is no specific number of teeth sets that a crocodile will have during its lifetime. New teeth will only push through when necessary, but this is a very efficient way in which a crocodile can be sure to almost always have a set of sharp, fully functional teeth!
The last main point I will mention about a crocodile’s teeth is how they are aligned in the mouth. Unlike mammal carnivores, crocodiles’ teeth don’t articulate against one another. That means they are unable to slice meat off of a carcass, instead they perform what has become known as the ‘death roll.’ Contrary to popular belief, this act isn’t necessarily performed in order to kill their prey, but rather to tear chunks of meat from it. A crocodile will firmly clamp its teeth onto the carcass and then aggressively spin in a lateral manner until a chunk of meat is freed. It will then gulp that chunk of meat down without chewing. If the carcass is small such as the goose above, the crocodile will thrash its head about from side to side to detach a piece to swallow.
Crocodiles are indeed one of the most fascinating and successful species on earth, after all – not much has changed in their last 85 million years of existence!