tyrannosaurus rex and megalodon are repeat sci-fi stars for a reason: their bites were ferocious. But which extinct and living creatures actually exert the strongest biting force?
Bite force, according to a study published in Borders (opens in a new tab), is the force that the muscles and bones of the upper and lower jaw generate when an animal bites. Animals with strong bite forces usually have no problem overpowering struggling prey. Some predators are even able to pierce their prey with particularly strong armor.
Of all living creatures today, the saltwater crocodile (porous crocodylus) has the strongest known bite force, at 16,460 newtons (newtons measure the magnitude of force), a 2012 study in the journal PLOS One (opens in a new tab) find. For comparison, 1 newton is about a quarter pound of force. Everything in the jaws of a saltwater crocodile is subjected to extreme force during its dying gasps.
There are two contenders that could challenge – and possibly beat – the fang, but their bite strengths haven’t been measured in a live setting because these animals are aquatic predators. If confirmed, the strongest bite force could be that of the killer whale (Orcinus orc), estimated at 84,516 newtons by the Dutch Shark Society (opens in a new tab)distantly followed by the bite force of a great White shark (Carcharodon carcharias), to about 18,000 newtons, according to computer models used in a 2008 study published in the zoology journal (opens in a new tab).
Among the extinct animals, the chomp of T. rex may have been king, to a 35,000 newton killer (opens in a new tab) when it stomped on the Earth around 68 million to 66 million years ago. The huge shark Megalodon (Otodus megalodon) terrorized the seas 15 to 3.6 million years ago with a bite force up to 182,200 newtons (opens in a new tab). However, there are still questions as to whether the shark could beat the dinosaur. They are difficult to contrast with each other because the jaws of sharks and dinosaurs have different types and numbers of teeth, explained Jack Tseng (opens in a new tab)biologist and assistant professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley.
Related: What animal has the most teeth on Earth?
Bite force can be measured directly or estimated indirectly. Live animals can bite on a dynamometer, which is how scientists measured the extreme bite of the saltwater crocodile. For living animals that scientists have not been able to test in this way, such as killer whales and sharks, bite force is based on what is known about their body structure, shape and type of prey. that they hunt.
Extinct animals are trickier. Only jaw bones remain in a skull, which is why researchers are using computer simulations to recreate jaw muscles that have long since broken down.
Making a Killer Bite
What happens in a crushing bite? Several characteristics – including head and jaw strength – play a role. Teeth are also a weapon. T. rexonly the head of had the power to crush bone, but it also had serrated, knife-like teeth. However, there is one factor that dominates all others, if you ask Daniel Huber (opens in a new tab)professor and holder of a chair in environmental studies at the University of Tampa in Florida.
“[Body] size is the most important factor in determining bite force,” Huber told Live Science in an email.
Huber discovered that a predator’s size outweighs everything else, including the width of the head and the tenacity of the prey. The jaw adductor muscles, responsible for closing the jaws, are crucial. “The sizes and positions of these adductors can be evolutionarily changed to maximize the amount of muscle force that can be transmitted into bite force,” he told Live Science in an email.
The iconic T. rex presumably had powerful jaws, according to dinosaur king computer simulations (opens in a new tab). Factoring in the sharpness of its teeth, estimates of the dinosaur’s bite force skyrocket, Huber said. But part of that total strength comes not only from biting force, but also from the extra biting pressure exerted by those sharp teeth.
“In general, the sharper the tip of the tooth, the higher the potential bite force for the same input muscle force, because any such force would be concentrated at the tip of a tooth,” Tseng added.
Not all animals with huge bite force are huge and full of teeth. Some are not even predators. The great Galapagos ground finch (Geospiza magnirostris) has the most intense bite force for its size, according to a 2019 study published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B (opens in a new tab). This bird weighs only about 1 ounce (33 grams), but its beak can crack hard nuts and seeds with a force of 70 newtons, which means it has the most powerful bite force for its size. according to the study. This gives the finch 320 times the biting power of T. rex.
How do humans compare? The hardest sting our species can withstand is around 1,000 newtons, so we’re not even in the same league.