Lion Anatomy- Teeth

Lions, being carnivores have specialised teeth to suit their diet and life style. The large canines are the first thing you think of when you imagine a lion tooth. but the molars and pre-molars are modified into what is called a carnassial shear, and play an important role in lion feeding. Lions don’t chew their food as we do, they use the carnassial shear to cut and slice flesh into small enough pieces to swallow.

The Carnassial Shear is the pre-molars and molars that have evolved into a very effective slicer, much like a pair of scissors cut. As you can see from the image above the carnassial teeth fit together perfectly with this sharp jagged edge lions use it to cut meat into sizable chunks, the photograph on the right in the image above you can see the lion ‘chewing’ with the side of his mouth, using the carnassials and cutting through skin and flesh easily.

Lion Teeth Anatomy

The large canines are not really used in feeding but they are very effective weapons in the hunt, uses include gripping prey, and they are the main teeth used in the famous choke hold. This choke hold is used to kill the prey, the idea is to close the airways by clamping down on the throat, the canines lock into the meat in the neck and stop the prey pulling out of the hold. On smaller prey this may be done by covering the animals muzzle with their mouth, the lion can still breath through its nose.

The much smaller incisors are used for extra grip in the choke hold as well as for pulling and tugging on internal organs that may need more delicate handling, such as the stomach lining. The stomach lining is often removed from the carcass in tact and put a sized, this could be because the stomach contents may taint the meat. Depending on how hungry the lions are the lining may be eaten, but the stomach contents being partially digested vegetation are alway left.

After a lion kill the only evidence you will see is the left over stomach contents, the horns and hooves which cannot be digested, and the larger bones. Smaller bones are often crunched up using the carnassials and eaten, but the larger bones such as the pelvis and skull are chewed but are too large to fit into the mouth to break.

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