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What big teeth you have!

Hello everyone, it’s Gorilla Care Team member Allie again, and I hope you are all staying safe and healthy. Today, we are going to be looking at gorilla teeth and what exactly they use those big chompers for. Get ready to sink your teeth into some gorilla facts!

Gorillas have 32 teeth, just like humans! Unfortunately for them, only humans have a Tooth Fairy. Just like us, gorillas have molars and premolars for grinding and chewing their food. They are herbivores (more specifically, folivores) which means that they love to eat lots of leafy greens. If you come to the Zoo, you’ll probably see some of our gorillas, particularly our family troop in Habitat 3, munching on kale, collard greens and romaine lettuce. You might even see some of our adult females (Sukari and Kudzoo) walking around bipedally, hoarding and holding as much kale and romaine as they can. Similarly to when I try to make only one trip to my apartment when I’m carrying lots of groceries … awkward and funny to watch.

Now there are two types of teeth left in the mouth of a gorilla: incisors and canines. Gorillas have incisors and canines to help cut, rip, and tear food. Since gorillas don’t eat meat, this mostly helps them when eating bark off of trees. Especially if you come to the Zoo and visit Habitat 2, I know two geriatric girls who love their browse (a term we use at the Zoo for edible vegetation we provide many of our animals, such as elm, oak, bamboo, and mulberry). Honestly, Choomba and Kuchi just love to eat in general, but they mainly love gnawing on those branches. Among silverback (adult male) gorillas, the long canines can also be used to display, or show dominance. If another gorilla does not back down, this can result in a quarrel among gorillas, where those canines may become tools to fend off other males as well as other threats to their family.

If you look at the head of any of our silverbacks, you’ll notice that they are very large and elongated. At the top of their skulls, gorillas have a ridge that runs lengthwise from the front to the back of their skulls known as the sagittal crest. If any of you have a dog at home, go ahead and give them a pat on the head, and notice that bump on the top of their head: they also have one. Isn’t that neat? Gorillas have incredible temporal muscles that reach from the bottom of their jaws ALL THE WAY to that sagittal crest! Because of this, if you watch our gorillas eat, you’ll notice that not only do their jaws move, but the tops of their heads do too. Since one of our male silverbacks, Willie B., Jr., has an especially large head, it’s easier to notice that movement while he eats. Now I want you to go ahead and put your hands on your temples and make a chewing motion with your mouth. Feel that? That’s the muscle I’m talking about; however, ours starts from the bottom of our jaws and stops there. Because of these main structures, along with massive necks, gorillas have one of the most powerful bites in the primate order.

“Tooth” be told, gorillas are pretty amazing if you ask me, and now you know more about what makes them and their teeth special. Thank you for reading, and I hope you all gained some more “wisdom” throughout this blog! Until next time, stay smiling!

Allie C.
Keeper I, Primates

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