Teeth Tales

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When most people think of snakes, they imagine long, deadly fangs delivering venom. While not all snakes have venomous fangs, all of them have teeth.

And now one herpetologist, William Ryerson, has discovered those teeth have stories to tell, especially regarding how snakes kill, Science Magazine reported.

In his research, Ryerson analyzed the jaws and teeth of nearly 70 snakes across 13 species, thoroughly peering into their shape and position.

His findings showed that the field of herpetology – the study of snakes – has focused too much on the actual fangs and downplayed snakes’ dental diversity.

“We had just assumed the teeth were all the same,” said Brian Richard, a comparative biomechanist at the University of Massachusetts Lowell who was not involved with the study.

But Ryerson observed that this variety in dentures also influenced the way the reptile struck its prey.

Using high-speed video, he scrutinized the way each species attacked a dead rodent and categorized them into two categories: “Strikers” and “lungers.”

He explained that strikers – which include pythons – have tall and straight teeth at the front that become curved and broader towards the back. In contrast, lungers – such as king snakes – have broad and curved teeth along both jaws, aiding prey intake while preventing escape.

This shape also influences their attack speed and direction: Strikers are very fast and use their teeth in their lower jaw to impale their food and help anchor the snake as it wraps itself around the rodent.

However, lungers attacked their prey straight on – although a bit slower – piercing it with both the top and bottom teeth at the same time.

Ryerson now hopes that the findings could inspire practical engineering applications.

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