Native to Europe, Asia, and North America, the wolf is feared and hated by some, and loved by others.
After centuries of constant attack by humans, they are starting to make a comeback both in their existing ranges, as well as being reintroduced to areas such as Yellowstone Park.
While there are more than one species of wolf, they share similar dental characteristics.
Both the gray wolf (Canis lupus) and red wolf (Canis rufus) and all subspecies are primarily carnivorous apex predators with teeth that have evolved to make them efficient killers.
They usually hunt and eat ungulates such as deer, elk, and moose, although they will target smaller animals such as beavers and rabbits when necessary.
When living in the vicinity of human settlements, they also may attack domestic animals such as cows or sheep.
Adult wolves have 42 permanent teeth that erupt between 4 to 6 months of age. Their upper jaw formula is 184.108.40.206, composed of 3 incisors, 1 canine, 4 premolars, and 2 molars on either side. Their lower jaws have a 220.127.116.11 formula.
The table below includes a quick list of wolf teeth facts*:
|Hemimaxilla dental formula (I.C.PM.M)||18.104.22.168|
|Hemijaw dental formula (I.C.PM.M)||22.214.171.124|
|Total number of teeth||42|
|Canine teeth length||2.5 inches|
|Milk teeth eruption||Approx. 2 weeks|
|Permanent dentition eruption||4-7 months|
|Bite force||1,500 PSI|
*The data in the table above were sourced from research papers, scientific publications, and other official sources cited throughout the article.
Wolf Jaw Morphology And Dental Formula
The narrow muzzles and powerful jaws of wolves have evolved to effectively kill and tear apart their prey, and their teeth are sharp and deadly.
On their maxilla, or upper jaw, wolves have 3 incisors, 1 canine, 4 premolars and 2 molars on each side.
On their lower jaw, they have almost the same formula, with the addition of one extra molar on each side.
How Many Teeth Do Wolves Have?
An adult wolf has 42 teeth, 20 on the upper jaw (maxilla) and 22 on the lower one (mandible).
Wolf pups have 28 milk teeth.
Wolf Teeth Size
As wolves depend on being able to kill their prey and then rip apart the carcasses, they need teeth that are long and sharp.
The canine teeth can be as long as 2.5 inches and a quarter inch across, and are sharp and strong enough to pierce the hide of the prey animal and hold it so that it cannot get away before being killed.
The middle 2 upper premolars have 3 sharp crowns each, which work with the first 3 premolars on the bottom jaw to cut up meat like a sharp knife.
The fourth premolar on the upper jaw is even larger and sharper, creating a scissor effect with the first molar on the lower jaw.
The molars at the back of the jaw are smaller, and serve to grind up the tough animal tissue, as well as any vegetable matter that the wolf eats.
Milk Teeth Eruption And Permanent Dentition
Wolf pups’ milk (or deciduous) teeth start to emerge when they are 2 weeks old. By 3 months they have been weaned and are eating meat.
The deciduous teeth have been pushed out and replaced with permanent teeth by the time they’re 7 months old.
Wolf Bite Strength
Wolves have an incredibly strong bite, up to 1,500 pounds per square inch. This gives their jaws and teeth the strength to crush the bones of their prey and extract the nutrient-rich marrow.
Their bite strength also makes it possible for them to latch onto and bring down their prey more.
When pursuing and catching a fast-moving animal such as a deer or elk, they may be dragged along at as much as 40 mph, but their jaw strength makes it possible for them to hang on until they can inflict a fatal injury.
Can A Wolf’s Teeth Determine Its Age?
Wolves suffer a great deal of wear and tear on their teeth, between using their jaws to kill their prey, and then ripping up the carcasses and crushing the bones.
Even defending their territory and breeding partners from other wolves can lead to damaged teeth.
Obviously, it’s easy to identify a wolf pup not just by its milk teeth but also by size, but there’s also a big difference between a fully-grown wolf of a year or two and one who is 5 or 6 or older.
Wolves over ten years of age often have just nubs of their once deadly teeth left, but they have been observed to be assisted by other members of their pack once they cannot hunt for themselves.
The most common methods for determining a wolf’s age are by counting tooth cementum annuli and by observing tooth wear.
Cementum annuli is the build-up of deposits on the teeth, and that obviously increases as a wolf gets older.
However, it can only be done properly by testing the teeth once a wolf has died, as the most accurate testing is done on canine teeth, without which a wolf cannot kill prey or defend itself.
It is usually accurate to within a year when the age of a wolf is known.
Sometimes researchers have sedated wolves and removed premolars to analyze them for cementum annuli, but the results are not as accurate as when canines are tested.
Tooth wear can be observed on living specimens that have been collared and examined. There are a lot of variables that can affect individual tooth wear, including diet and abnormalities such as an overbite.
Still, it can be accurate to within a couple of years in 75% of cases, according to one study.
How To Identify Wolf Teeth Marks
One of the first determining factors in identifying wolf bite marks is their location on the carcass.
Wolves tend to attack from the rear as they chase down their prey, so their bite marks are usually on the tail, groin, flank, or under the right leg.
Often, however, it’s not the actual teeth marks that will identify a wolf as the predator, but rather the method of the kill. Once a wolf pack has brought down its prey, the carcass is torn apart and the bones are crushed and eaten as well.
Wolf Teeth Comparison vs. Other Species
Wolf teeth marks will be similar to other canids such as coyotes or wild dogs, as they have almost identical dental formulas, but the wolf canines are usually longer and wider than any other species, so they will have deeper and larger holes.
They are also further apart than coyotes or foxes.
|CANIDAE SPECIES||CANINE TEETH SPACING||CANINE TEETH DIAMETER|
|Wolf||1.5 to 1.75 inches||¼ inch|
|Coyote||1.125 to 1.375 inches||⅛ inch|
|Red fox||0.7 to 1 inch||< ⅛ inch|
|Domesticated dog (large to giant breed)||1.85 to 2.57||> ¼ inch|
The teeth of wolves are not that much different from other members of the canid family, such as dogs, coyotes, and foxes, with 42 teeth and the same basic dental formula.
However, wolves are definitely the most powerful and deadly of this animal family, with incredibly powerful jaws that make it possible for them to bring down animals as large as moose or elk.
The size of their teeth, especially their canines, as well as the intercanine spacing, can help differentiate a wolf kill from that of another member of the same family.
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