Discovering a fossilized shark's tooth on the beach is exciting. It's even more interesting to learn a little about the story behind the tooth. An individual can put together a rough profile of a shark by examining a fossilized tooth. Consider some information about shark teeth and what to look for when evaluating a fossilized tooth.
Shark Teeth Anatomy and Function
Different species of shark have different types of teeth. A person can determine what a shark eats by looking at the shape and size of its teeth. For example, before eating a crustacean or a mollusk, a nurse shark uses its short, round teeth to crush the creature's shell. Alternatively, a shark that chases and grasps its prey has long, pointed teeth. Mako sharks have pointed teeth that help them grasp and eat a variety of small fish. Some sharks have serrated, triangular-shaped teeth. These sharks are able to cut through the thick flesh and bones of their prey. A great white is one example of a shark with serrated teeth. They hunt large mammals such as dolphins and seals.
Fossil Shark Teeth
Shark teeth are made of a solid substance called dentin. This material is slow to decompose, which is part of the reason why fossil shark teeth are so plentiful. When a shark loses a tooth, it ends up on the bottom of the ocean, where it's covered with protective layers of sediment. It takes thousands of years for a shark tooth to turn into a fossil. As fossilization takes place, water and minerals work their way into the shark's tooth. One fossil tooth may be red while another is gray, blue, green, or even orange. The color of a shark's tooth can be an indication of the type of minerals inside it.
Identifying Shark Teeth
The shape and size of a fossilized tooth can help a person to identify the type of shark it belonged to. The area where it's discovered is also a helpful detail in identifying a fossilized shark tooth. Some types of sharks are known to live around particular coastlines. Keep in mind that identifying a fossilized shark's tooth is a tricky process. For instance, a shark's teeth may change shape if the shark starts eating different types of prey. Plus, some diseases can affect the shape and size of a shark's teeth.
Other Interesting Facts
Most sharks lose tens of thousands of teeth during their lifetime. They have rows of teeth waiting to replace the ones that are lost every few weeks. Considering this, it comes as no surprise that some sharks can lose around 50,000 teeth in a lifetime!
- A Profile of Shark Teeth: View images of fossil shark teeth and read about the history of sharks.
- Facts on Fossil Shark Teeth: Why are fossil shark teeth different colors? Discover the answer to this question along with others on this informative page.
- The Parts of Shark Teeth (PDF): Take an in-depth look at the various parts of a shark's tooth and how this information helps scientists to identify sharks.
- A History of Fossilized Shark Teeth (PDF): Discover how the appearance of fossilized teeth can be different for two sharks of the same type.
- Learning About Sharks Through Fossils: Consider some facts on why sharks have different types of teeth.
- General Facts on Shark Teeth: Read about the teeth of different types of sharks on this page from Cornell University.
- A Closer Look at Sharks and Their Teeth (PDF): Learn about the teeth of mako sharks and great white sharks along with others.
- Determining the Size of a Shark By Its Teeth: Take a look at a simple way to estimate the size of a shark by looking at one of its teeth.
- A Look at How Sharks Lose Their Teeth: Discover how a shark's powerful bite contributes to the loss of teeth.
- Profile of Calvert County Sharks: Study information about the fossilized teeth of sharks from the Miocene period found in Calvert County, Maryland.
- Images of Sharks' Teeth: View images of teeth from different species of shark.
- The Differences in Shark Teeth: Click on a type of shark and find out more about the appearance of its teeth.
- Shark Evolution and Fossils: Learn how shark fossils reveal how much the shark has evolved over millions of years.
- Fish Fossils of Southeastern Nebraska: The University of Nebraska catalogs various shark teeth specimens with photos.
- Ancient Shark Teeth Give Clues to Future of Arctic Climate Change: A study of shark teeth found in the Arctic Ocean shows that some shark species lived through changes in their habitat millions of years ago.
- A Shark Teeth Challenge: Test your knowledge of shark teeth fossils and try to find the ones in this photograph.