When you think of dinosaur teeth, do you envision rows of razor-sharp fangs in the mouth of a ferocious T. Rex? Yet the T. Rex is but one of many dinosaur species with specialized teeth. Dinosaurs like the duck-billed hadrosaur or the giant sauropods – the herbivore dinosaurs – had different types and shapes of teeth to help them chew plants and strip leaves. So, what’s special about herbivore dinosaur teeth?
In general, herbivore dinosaur teeth were flat and blunt but had different shapes. These shapes were conical, pencil-like, leaf-like, and spoon-shaped. Depending on the dinosaur species, their teeth had different uses. Some were for cutting through tough plants; others were designed for scooping up vegetation.
Fossil discoveries made in decades past have revealed a picture of what different dinosaur species ate based on their teeth and the fossilized stomach contents. Different types of herbivore dinosaurs, such as sauropods and hadrosaurs, have been found, including their complete skeletons.
These skulls help paleontologists study the teeth of herbivore dinosaurs to learn more about them. Teeth are important to paleontologists because they use them for identification purposes, like if a fossilized skull was found without any other parts attached or with only partials remaining.
A dinosaur’s teeth can tell us so much about them, so we hope you’ll keep reading to discover more secrets about the lives of herbivores. Ahead, we’ll discuss herbivore dinosaur teeth in greater detail and compare and contrast their teeth to the ones in the heads of carnivores.
Let’s get started!
Why Plant-Eating Dinosaurs Had Uniquely-Shaped Teeth
When you’re eating a plate of salad, you don’t need to chew it nearly as finely as you do a piece of steak, right? Yet biting and shredding are still involved, which is why plant-eating dinosaurs had teeth.
Sometimes the dinosaur had to strip the leaves off the branches too. All this took different types of teeth.
Like sauropod teeth or hadrosaur teeth, paleontologists have collected and studied the different teeth for decades.
Scientists can find so many fossilized teeth because the enamel on the teeth enables fossilization and because the skull would protect the fossil teeth from exposure.
Paleontologists found patterns in what plant-eaters and meat-eaters would eat and how the different teeth evolved in dinosaurs depending on what they had to chew.
Speaking of chewing, here’s something interesting. Did you know that not all herbivore dinosaurs could chew? If they were going to eat what they put into their mouths, the dinosaurs had to be able to grind the food down finely so they could swallow it without choking.
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The Shapes and Types of Herbivore Dinosaur Teeth
Herbivore dinosaur teeth were hard, so they could withstand the tough plant material that was the basis of their diet. Some of them had serrated teeth, which could help cut through and tearing the vegetation they were eating.
In terms of shape and size, dinosaur teeth varied by species, which we’ll cover more in the next section. For now, here are some herbivore teeth profiles.
Although most people assume that herbivores didn’t need conical teeth, they had at least a few. Conical refers to something cone-shaped, so a conical tooth would be broader at the base and slimmer at the point with a sharp edge.
Sauropod teeth are known to have rows of conical teeth.
Plant-eating dinosaurs didn’t have to cut through meat like carnivores, but for tough plants, sharp teeth certainly don’t hurt!
Another tooth shape in the mouths of many herbivorous dinosaurs was pencil-like chompers. These teeth are frequently likened to pegs.
This tooth style would be longer than any conical teeth the herbivore dino had yet would feature no sharp edges. Instead, the tooth would be flat at the edge.
Teeth like these came in handy for slicing tree leaves.
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The third shape of herbivorous dinosaur teeth is leaf-like fangs. These are broader teeth with four edges that featured a raised bridge on either side. The two longest edges of these teeth would have rough edges, much like conical teeth.
These teeth are sometimes referred to as spatula-shaped teeth. If a plant’s vegetation was tough, these leaf-shaped teeth could easily bite through so the herbivorous dinosaur could eat.
The final shape of identified herbivore dinosaur teeth is those that are spoon-shaped. These teeth would be curved with a hollow area, even looking like flat teeth.
It’s hard to say what the teeth were used for definitively, but it may have been scooping or even holding food in the absence of cheeks.
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Examples of Different Herbivore Dinosaur Teeth
Sauropod dinosaurs and other herbivorous dinosaurs chose the plant types they ate based on their teeth. Tough vegetation and the variety of plants available to them would have been a factor in their choices.
Even more interesting is that based on species, herbivorous dinosaurs had different kinds of teeth. It was undoubtedly an evolutionary advancement to keep the dinosaurs alive, but it’s still really fascinating stuff.
Let’s go over some herbivore dinosaur teeth examples now so you can see what we mean.
The Pachycephalosaur, a Greek name that translates to “thick-headed lizard,” includes one species, the P. wyomingensis. This dinosaur lived in the Late Cretaceous Period with fossils found in parts of the world as Alberta, Canada, and Wyoming, South Dakota, and Montana in the United States.
The Pachycephalosaur was known for its nine-inch skull roof, thick bones that covered the nostrils, eyes, and brain. With only skull fossils having been recovered of this dinosaur as of this writing, we can’t say a lot about its body, but we can describe the Pachycephalosaur’s head.
It’s believed that its head was tiny but tall thanks to that thick bony dome atop it. Its teeth were also on the smaller side and primarily leaf-shaped.
Using the last section for reference, this tells us that the Pachycephalosaur probably ate dense vegetation without difficulty. Experts also believe this dinosaur fed on fruits, seeds, and possibly meat.
Yes, that’s right, meat. Paleontologists have found a fossil of the Pachycephalosaur that included front conical teeth with serrations that are akin to carnivore teeth, especially those of Theropods. I wrote an article dedicated to these types of dinosaurs; check it out here – What Was The Dinosaur With The Bump On Its Head? The Hard-Headed Dinos.
During the Jurassic Period, Ankylosaurs ruled. That continued into the Cretaceous Period until near that period’s end. Some Ankylosaur remains have been unearthed between Antarctica and Australia, while other fossils were found throughout the Northern Hemisphere.
The body and head armor of an Ankylosaur is its most defining feature. The armor consisted of spines, nodules, and scutes. These dinosaurs were ground-feeders, and with their armor, they weren’t exactly vulnerable to attacks while eating.
Attesting to their eating style was the Ankylosaur’s teeth, which were rather small and not crammed together. Each tooth was triangular or conical for shredding and chewing leaves and other greenery.
Experts believe Ankylosaurs could indeed chew, and not only that but thanks to a secondary palate, they could breathe while doing it. Their tongues were also quite adept and flexible, as paleontologists have discovered from Ankylosaur hyoid bones.
It would have only helped the Ankylosaur eat more efficiently. If you are interested in reading more about armored dinosaurs and how they protected themselves, check out my article – How Did Dinosaurs Protect Themselves? (Armor, Weapons).
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Ceratopsians are beaked, horned dinosaurs that lived in the Cretaceous Period. The earlier forms of Ceratopsians existed sometime in the Jurassic Period. The remains of the more modern Ceratopsians have been located throughout Asia, Europe, and North America.
The large horned skull of a Ceratopsian is its trademark. On that skull is what’s known as a rostral bone, a type of ossification that allowed the dinosaur to masticate plants. To masticate means to grind down and chew food.
Each Ceratopsian tooth had at least two roots. A Science Advances report from 2015 found that the earliest forms of Ceratopsians featured teeth in their cheeks that were angled low and meant for shearing.
As Ceratopsians evolved, so did their teeth. Later, Ceratopsians had dentitions with a much higher slicing angle so they could chew through hard plants.
The duck-billed Hadrosaurs–like the ducks of today–did indeed have teeth. Besides, it’s not like Hadrosaurs had duck bills per se, just bones that were flat and looked like bills.
While the appearance of Hadrosaurs can look comical or strange, their jaws were considered more evolved than other dinosaurs during the Late Cretaceous Period, about 65 million years ago.
For example, Hadrosaurs had teeth all in a row and several of these rows. As soon as the dinosaur wore down their primary set of teeth and were unusable, new teeth would pop up in their place. Some paleontologists believe that Hadrosaur teeth, despite the amount, could have been easily knocked loose.
Unlike the other dinos we’ve talked about, Hadrosaurs likely did not feast on hard vegetation. Instead, they would have stuck to the type of vegetation soft enough plants to cause their teeth to fall out when eating. Water plants could have been their primary diet.
Remember how earlier we talked about the fact that not all dinosaurs could chew? That was the case for sauropods or the four-legged dinosaurs with exceedingly long necks. I’ve written many articles on this website about the different types of sauropods, the places they lived, and the types of vegetation they ate.
Long-necked sauropods were the largest herbivores to have existed, and their fossils have been found on all continents.
The different sauropod species – prosauropods (early species of sauropods), titanosaurs like Argentinosaurus, dicraeosaurids like Amargasaurus, and more well-known sauropods like Diplodocus all had long necks. They could reach tree branches and the tops of trees.
Yet sauropods lacked the ability to chew, and they also probably didn’t have cheeks. What they did possess was peg or pencil-like teeth. These teeth were able to rake leaves off of trees and to the ground, where the long neck of the Sauropod allowed the dinosaur to reach them.
They could also slice leaves and eat them that way. Depending on the sauropod species, the size of the neck and the skull shape,
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How Often Did Herbivore Dinosaurs Replace Their Teeth?
Interestingly, herbivore dinosaurs replaced their teeth often due to the tough types of vegetation and stress put on the teeth to cut and chew up the plants. Not only that, depending on the species and type of teeth, the replacement rate could be really high.
How long did the average set of herbivorous dinosaur teeth last? Not that long, actually!
According to a 2019 article from Smithsonian Magazine that references several scientific studies, an herbivorous dinosaur would get a new tooth every 35 to 62 days, depending on the species.
These dinosaurs had sets of replacement teeth ready to grow as soon as tough vegetation caused a tooth to be pulled out.
It might seem surprising to you since most plant food is so soft, but remember that dinosaurs weren’t eating Caesar salads. They were munching on raw vegetation, which could often be quite hard on their teeth.
All the grinding and breaking down food would wear away their teeth, forcing the dinosaurs to grow new teeth.
Herbivore Dinosaur Teeth Compared to Carnivores
We’ve touched on the carnivorous dinosaur’s teeth a few times in this article, but now let’s delve deeper into the topic, shall we?
Meat-eating dinosaurs didn’t exclusively consume the flesh but fish as well. The Spinosaurus and Suchomimus are two meat-eating species known to be fish-eaters.
What Carnivores Hunted and How Their Teeth Helped Them
Their teeth were conical like those belonging to herbivorous dinosaurs. These teeth served a different purpose for carnivores, though. The cone shape and pointed edge allowed the Spinosaurus a powerful bite to latch onto a slippery fish and bite through it.
Outside of fish, some carnivores had a diet based on insects. Theropods such as the bird dinosaur Archaeopteryx munched on bugs all the time.
This dinosaur possessed a tiny jaw with very sharp fangs that could easily crack an insect’s exoskeleton.
A Few of the Main Carnivores’ Teeth for Comparison
As for the real meat-eating dinos–including the Tyrannosaurus, Giganotosaurus, Allosaurus, Velociraptor, and others–they had sharp teeth that were long and serrated.
Think of how you use a serrated knife to cut into a steak, and that’s what predator’s teeth were like when biting into flesh. The teeth would grip and then rip open the skin.
T. Rex teeth had mostly conical teeth that came in an assortment of sizes, some large enough to break down bone. The Allosaurus’ teeth were smaller and shorter, possibly as a form of impact resistance.
Both these carnivores were from North America. Another type of carnivorous teeth style belongs to the Giganotosaurus (from Argentina), which had long, narrow teeth for slicing and cutting.
Like herbivore dinosaurs, carnivores had a wide range of tooth shapes and sizes.
As we have covered, herbivorous dinosaurs had special teeth in various shapes and sizes depending on the species. Some types of teeth made up for a dino’s lack of chewing ability, while others could slice leaves and more still would grind down leaves.
Meat-eating dinosaurs, too, had an assortment of teeth styles for eating in different ways, proving these dinosaurs are closer to herbivores than we might have thought!
When you see a dinosaur skeleton in a museum or a detailed image, one can’t help but take notice of the skull, and of course, the teeth in the skull. Those fossil teeth are not just common fossils but actually an important way to identify a dinosaur’s lifestyle and history!
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