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Animal Jawbone Identification

Updated July 19, 2017

We can learn a lot from animal bones, and jawbones specifically can give us an idea of what an animal ate and how it looked. Three key items in identifying an animal's jawbone are its teeth, its shape and its size.

Teeth

An animal's teeth determine what it eats. A jawbone with mostly large, pointed teeth likely belonged to a predator of some kind, whereas a jawbone with flat teeth likely belonged to an herbivore, which used those teeth to grind up plant material.

Shape

An animal's jawbone has been specialised through centuries of evolution, which makes it an identifying feature. A long jawbone with a gap between the front and rear teeth lends itself well to herbivores, like deer. Carnivores have heavier jaws, designed more for crushing and tearing than browsing.

Size

The relative size of a jawbone correlates directly to the size of an animal. A bear, for example, has a much larger jawbone than a rat, and a much smaller jaw than a blue whale.

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About the Author

Based out of Minneapolis, Minn., Emily Zebrun began writing professionally in 2005. Since then, she has had a short story and five poems published in The College of St. Scholastica's literary magazine, "The Freshwater Review." She is earning a Bachelor of Science in biology at the College of St. Scholastica.