Big Bites: Animals That Have the Strongest Jaws

I've seen an Alaskan brown bear bite clean through the skull of a beached killer whale carcass. This poses the question: Which creatures have the strongest jaws?

Big Bites: Animals That Have the Strongest Jaws

This jaw belongs to a shortfin mako shark, which did not make the list. But, still, a cool jaw. Photo: Didier Descouens (Wikipedia) 

I once watched an Alaskan brown bear bite clean through the skull of a beached killer whale carcass on a remote southeast Alaskan beach. The sound was like a rifle going off. My first thought was, “If this thing ever got hold of me, it could bite through my femur like it was a toothpick!”

PSI, or pounds per square inch: A value that denotes a pressure that results when an area of one square inch is subjected to a pressure of one pound of force.”

Which got me thinking: What creature has the most powerful bite in the animal world? So I did some research and came up with this Top 10 list. Please note that the values mentioned here may exhibit small variations from species to species, and from source to source. There really are no definitive value like e=mc2 to base this on. 

But these are pretty close, and gleaned from a multitude of sources. Each one is largely based on a mix of evidence, estimates and mathematical calculations. The bite force of all the animals mentioned is calculated in psi (pounds per square inch), a value that denotes the pressure that results when an area of one square inch is subjected to one pound of force.

10) African Lion

The “King of the Jungle" can weigh up to 600 pounds. The lion lives in a social group called a pride, in which the females actually do most of the hunting. A big male can deliver a bite with the force of about 650 psi. Amazing. Yet not even close to some other big cats, as you’ll see in a moment. Still, who wants any of that?

9) Brown/Grizzly Bear

The bite force of a bear measures at 975 psi; between that of the lion and the tiger. It's said that bears can easily crack a bowling bowl — or a whale skull — with such force. The largest brown bears can weigh over 1,500 pounds, with paws the size of a catcher’s mitt and claws that exceed half-a-foot in length. A close encounter with a bruin will leave you speechless.

8) Tiger

The tiger, the largest in the cat family, is one of the most ferocious and efficient predators in the wild. They can measure up to 11 feet from its nose to the tip of its tail, and weigh up to 675 pounds. Tigers can slip silently through the forest while its black-striped, reddish-orange fur blends in perfectly with the tall grass. When it finally pounces on its prey, it sinks its canines into flesh and bone with a bite force of 1,050 psi. Pretty hard to escape that! 

7) Hyena 

On my first African safari, I was amazed at how terrified the local populations in the bush were of hyenas, even more so than lions or buffalo or even elephants. Hyenas have amazing stamina, they're able to chase prey for more than three miles at speeds approaching 30 mph. And when they finally chase it down, they will start feeding on it while it's still alive. No worries when they hit a big leg bone or a skull, with a bite strength of 1,100 psi, they can crunch through anything. 

6) Gorilla 

Weighing 400 pounds or more, gorillas are as strong as Superman, super smart and very shy. After chimps and bonobos, gorillas are our closest relatives. Their diet mainly is mainly comprised of leaves, stems, shoots, insects and fruits, depending on the species. Given this mostly vegetarian diet, one might believe that the bite force of a gorilla would not be super strong. But you’d be quite wrong! They have a bite force of almost 1,300 psi and coupled with their sharp canines, help them fend off other gorillas and animals like the leopard, which will eat them when given the opportunity. 

5) Jaguar

Jaguars have the strongest jaws in the big cat family. This animal can deliver a bite force of up to 1,350 psi — twice as powerful as that of the African lion. Why, such a big difference you might ask? Perhaps it’s the way each cat hunts; lions and tigers like to go for the soft flesh around the throat, while the jaguar likes to try and crush the skull of its prey, piercing the brain with its long, sharp canine teeth. A lithe, strong body weighing over 200 pounds helps the jaguar crack open not only skulls, but the shells of turtles and desert tortoise as well.

4) Hippopotamus

Bush-dwelling Africans fear hippos as much as any other animal on the continent. Why? They are ill-tempered and quite territorial, and have been known to attack humans just for the fun of it. At up to 17 feet long and weighing up to 4,000 pounds, hippos at first appear slow and slothful when on land, but just the opposite is true. They can sprint extremely fast for a short distance and in the water, they are a force to be feared. They have a mouthful of thick, jagged ivory teeth that can be up to 16 iches long, and a bite force of 1,825 psi. Making it easy for a hippo to bite right through a dugout canoe.

3) Alligator

Nearly at the top of the food chain, the alligator fears nothing, except humans, which of course it can easily overpower and kill. These reptiles are known to grow to 14 feet in length or more, and weigh more than 1,000 pounds. Their signature move is the “death roll.” Here’s how it works: An adult alligator possesses between 74 to 80 teeth and when it bites its prey, it immediately starts spinning violently in the water so that escape is virtually impossible. And how can you hope to escape when it bites down with a bite force of 2,125 psi!

2) Saltwater Crocodile

If alligators are big and mean, the saltwater crocodile is the head of the world’s nastiest biker gang. Weighing up to 4,400 pounds and measuring nearly 25 feet, it is easily capable of destroying everything in its path, save for humans with nets and guns. Crocs have a very large jaw structure, jaw muscles as stiff as bone and sharp teeth. A crocodile's head is nature's ultimate machine, built for clamping down on anything that gets inside its mouth. The largest skull size that has been scientifically verified by the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle in Cambodia was 30 inches long, with a mandible length of 38.7-inches and a maximum width across the skull of 19 inches. Tests conducted in a laboratory setting measured a saltwater croc's bite force up to 3,700 psi.

1) Great White Shark

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

The 5,000 pound great white shark has a mouth filled with about 300 serrated, triangular teeth and an acute sense of smell. It also has the ability to detect electromagnetic fields generated by  other animals. This allows it to locate prey from miles away. It's the largest predatory fish on earth, but can it bite? During an experiment, scientists estimated that a 21-foot long great white shark may be capable of producing a bite force of an incredible 4,000 psi.

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