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A portion of the skull and teeth of a carnivore seen from the front

Use the Clues...

By Gina Jack and Eileen Stegemann

Teeth can help you figure out what and how an animal eats. By looking at the number and form of the teeth you can tell whether the animal is a meat-eater (carnivore), plant-eater (herbivore) or both (omnivore).

Teeth

Photo of the front of a beaver skull
A beaver skull

Sharp, pointed teeth are used for tearing and shearing meat: a carnivore.

Broad, somewhat flat teeth are used for crushing and grinding vegetation: an herbivore. Since omnivores, such as raccoons and humans, eat both plants and meat, they have sharp teeth in the front to rip and cut, and flattened teeth in the back to mash their food.

Eye Sockets

The skull and eye sockets of a predator
A predator's eyes usually face forward.
The position and size of the eye sockets can tell you a lot. Predators, such as coyotes, generally have forward-facing eyes. This gives them 3-D vision, so they can more accurately locate and follow prey.

Prey species, such as rabbits, have relatively large eyes located on the sides of their head. They have great peripheral vision, helping them to spot predators and warning them about sneak attacks.

Next time you're in the woods, or even in your backyard, look around and see if you can spot any mammal bones. While finding a complete skull is rare, you'll be amazed at what you can find, and surprised at the amount of information those bones reveal.