Although quite distinct in appearance due to their unique black and white stripes, zebras belong to the Equus family and share many of their traits.
How are zebras’ teeth? Is there anything different about them?
A physical trait of zebras that’s similar to horses is their teeth. Not only do zebras share an equal number of teeth with horses, but they also have the same tooth size and shape for the most part.
On top of that, like us humans and horses, zebras’ teeth go through multiple growth stages, including having their adult teeth replace their baby or milk teeth at an early stage in their lives. All of that’s quite fascinating, isn’t it? Well, we are just getting started and have got plenty more of zebras and their teeth in this article.
If you are a true zebra lover and are passionate about learning more about this majestic animal, keep reading!
Stages of Teeth Growth in a Zebra’s Life
It all begins with the Baby Teeth
If you’ve seen a human baby grow into a full-fledged adult, you know they have two sets of teeth in their lifetime.
Initially, they’re only able to grow out their baby teeth, also called milk teeth, which later fall out and get replaced by another set of teeth.
Well, zebras go through this little journey as well. In fact, all animals belonging to the horse family do. Zebras are initially born without teeth, but they start growing their central incisors (the front two teeth), usually in their first week.
Their premolars start pushing through by the time the foal is two weeks old. The rest of their premolars start pushing themselves out from the gums next, with the rest of their incisors growing out soon after.
All in all, most zebras’ milk teeth set is complete by the time they turn nine months old. This is certainly quick when you compare it to the growth rate of an average human baby.
Obviously, there can be some exceptions, as some zebras tend to hit their growth spurt a little later in life. A complete set of baby zebra teeth consist of 24 milk teeth. Made up of 12 incisors and 12 premolars.
These don’t last too long as their adult teeth start pushing soon after, ensuring that the baby teeth pop and fall out of the zebra’s jaw.
Baby Teeth to Replace with Adult Teeth
Milk teeth, in general, are denoted by a scientific term that most dental professionals become accustomed to using as they learn dentistry.
They’re known as “caps” for the real adult teeth in their growth stage. That’s also for a good reason because as soon as it turns nine months, a zebra’s adult teeth start pushing their way to the surface, and it doesn’t take them long to fully grow either.
The teeth first start fully appearing when a zebra is two years old and replace all of the milk teeth completely by the time a zebra is five years old.
This long-term process entails the adult teeth growing out of the gums from the front of the bottom jaw. At this point, the “caps” or milk teeth also start slowly popping out of their place and eventually all fall out, giving way to the new set of adult teeth that have just sprouted.
An adult zebra’s complete set of teeth consists of 40 teeth. There are 12 molars, 12 premolars, 16 canines and a few incisors in some exceptional cases.
All the Different Types of Teeth in a Full Adult Zebra
According to our arduous research, an average zebra has no incisors when its adult teeth are fully grown. Yes, a zebra foal does have a pair or sometimes three central incisors as a part of their baby teeth.
However, once they grow into adults, their incisors are replaced by canines, leaving them with absolutely no incisors in their mouth.
There are always exceptions to every rule, and in some cases, we have found zebras with a total of 44 teeth in their mouth instead of the usual 40. The extras are the additional incisors.
Incisors, by nature and shape, are sharp teeth that help these fantastic animals cut and eat grass more easily and pull out the tough stalks.
When imagining a set of canines in your head, we can safely assume that the first animal that pops up in your mind has to be a carnivore hunting and biting its prey to consume it because that’s what we humans believe is a canine teeth function.
However, after molars and premolars, canines make up the rest of an adult zebra’s set of teeth, who by nature are herbivores. On average, a zebra has a total of 16 canines in its mouth.
These incredibly sharp teeth have one primary purpose: to fend off predators. In the event of an assault, zebras can use their canines to bite their predators back in an effort to get them to back off.
Male zebras also use their canines to impress a female through multiple aggressive displays against other males in the herd.
These displays often entail two male zebras “fighting” with each other by butting heads and loudly clashing their canines together as a sort of warning to the other males.
This behavior helps maintain social order and prevent injury to both the males and the females during mating.
Premolars and Molars
Zebras are herbivores, meaning they do not eat other animals or meat of any kind and instead enjoy munching on vegetation and plants.
A zebra’s molars and premolars come in handy when consuming food. For instance, the 12 molars near the back of the zebra’s mouth are large and flat, making them ideal for chewing and grinding tough vegetation like bark and grass.
The 12 premolars located near to the front of the mouth have a small and pointed appearance. This makes them ideal for biting at and tearing out vegetation from the roots.
Both these sets of molars work in tandem when consuming food, helping zebras eat all types of vegetation with relative ease and sometimes helping them fend off their major predators, lions.
Zebra Wolf Teeth
Just like horses, zebras too can sometimes develop wolf teeth as a part of their initial milk teeth set. These teeth are small and usually exist between the set of premolars at the front of the zebra’s jaw.
These teeth don’t have a purpose and can sometimes annoy zebras until they eventually fall out.
There’s a reason why zebras can gnaw at and successfully tear out the toughest plants from their roots almost completely. And that’s because zebras possess hypsodont teeth.
Hypsodont teeth are high-crowned teeth with an additional layer of enamel that extends past the gum line—giving them that extra bit of support that allows them to chew and tear out the toughest vegetation around. The hypsodont nature of their teeth also ensures that they keep growing till a zebra eventually dies.
To put it simply, a zebra’s teeth always continue erupting but stay the same in size because the surface gets continually worn down due to the chewing and cutting they do.
And that, folks, wraps up our article on everything zebra teeth related. We hope you glean the information you were looking for from this article and now have more appreciation for the natural beauty of zebras and nature in general.