Thursday, May 7, 2009

My, what big teeth you have...

A hyena's mouth is a pretty intimidating sight. But, as long as you're not a tasty ungulate, it's also a fascinating one.

Surprisingly, it's not those deadly-sharp canines (those dagger-like teeth in front) that enable hyenas to do so much damage. Instead, it's the rather innocuous-looking premolars, located farther back along the jaws, that give hyenas their bone-cracking abilities.

Hyenas will carefully position a bone on one side of their mouth and bite down. Hard. Really hard.

From measuring hyenas' teeth, we can gather all sorts of information about them. We can tell an individual's rank (since low-rankers must crack far more bone than high-rankers, their premolars are much more worn), we can tell an individual's age (older animals' teeth are more worn than younger animals), and whether a hyena is "right-sided" or "left-sided" (just like we prefer to use one hand to write or to throw a ball, hyenas tend to use one side of their mouth more often to crack bone).

Now that I think about it, maybe that's why our hyenas steal gives their jaws a nice rest from all that work.


Debbie said...

Hi Kate,
How is a hyena's brain structure similar to and different from humans?

Dana said...

The teeth are very clean, i.e. no tartar like my dog has. Is that from eating the bones?

Also, myself and a friend will be in the Mara this Sept. Do you allow and welcome visitors to your Camp? We'd love to meet you all and hear about your project first hand.

Kate said...

Hi Debbie! I'm no expert on the physiology of hyenas' interests lie more in the area of what those amazing brains can do. Maybe Jaime or Kay can enlighten us on hyena brains. I'll see what I can find out for you!

Dana, we'd love to have you visit camp. I'll have left the Mara by then, but I'm sure the students who are here in September would be happy to show you what we do. Get in touch with us closer to your trip, and we will work it out!

Kate said...

Also, Dana, you're right...those pearly white teeth are indeed a result of chewing on so many bones!

Dana said...

Great Kate - and so sorry that we won't get a chance to meet you in September.

We have been coming to the Mara every year since 2003 and have become involved with the Conservancy, Dr. Asuka vacination program, visited the Duputo Forest and are interested in the honeybee project and numerous other things going on in our "2nd" home.

I'll send an email close to time of our arrival(10 Sept thru 26 Sept) FYI - We'll be staying at Kichwa.


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