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Bite Club

Bite Club


There are a fair few animals knocking around Australia that you wouldn’t want to bump into. The world’s ten most poisonous snakes for starters; then there’s the red-back spider - a vicious cousin of the deadly black widow; but all of these would quail in front of the biggest gnasher of them all.


For all the malignant beasts wandering the Aussie landscapes, there’s one that makes the others look positively feeble: the marsupial lion. Looking more like a small bear than a lion and weighing in at around 100kg (16 stone), the marsupial lion, or Thylacoleo carnifex as it’s known in the trade, has recently been awarded the accolade of having the strongest bite of any creature. So it’s probably just as well that it’s been extinct for the last 45,000 years.

A team of researchers, led by the University of Sydney’s carnivore expert Dr. Stephen Wroe, compared 31 living and 8 extinct types of mammal. Using some pretty fancy sums based on skull measurements and body size they calculated the bite force quotient (BFQ) for each species. This BFQ shows how hard, relative to their size, animals can bite. T. carnifex

Big biter Thylacoleo carnifex was a tough little fella.
The skeleton of Thylacoleo - a marsupial lion with a big bite
T. carnifex possessed enormous jaw muscles, which gave it its titanic bite, but there was a side effect: it was a pretty mindless killer. An animal with very large jaw muscles must have room around the skull to put them in - the marsupial lion got around this problem by storing its muscles in the spaces that other animals use to put their brains. With so little area left for grey matter T. carnifex wouldn’t have won many prizes for its intellectual capabilities.

Amongst those species still living, the animal that takes the big bite prize is another Australian marsupial, the Tasmanian devil. The largest remaining marsupial carnivore, devils are not so much hunters as scavengers, using their powerful jaws to completely devour any carcasses that they find - bones, fur and all. Devils can bite down with a force of 418 Newtons, this is much lower than that of a lion for example (1768 N), but since devils weigh only about 12 kg, compared to a lion’s 300 kg, their bite is much more powerful in relation to body size.

We reckon there must be something in the Antipodean air. With the toughest animals all residing down-under, it does seem that the competitive Aussie spirit was rampant long before they ever got their hands on a cricket ball!


BITE FACTS:

The Australian opossum has 50 teeth, the most found in any mammal; while narwhals have the longest tooth, growing up to 3 metres long.

The humble snail may have more than 100,000 teeth in the form of a rasping radula.

Chewing food involves using 32 different mouth and throat muscles.

Frenchman, Michel Lotito, has been eating metal and glass since 1959, and consumes 900 grams of metal per day. He says bananas and hard-boiled eggs make him sick.

American police dogs were reportedly being fitted with a new weapon in the fight against crime: titanium false teeth, which supposedly improve the canine’s bite - gripping stuff...

Humans can bite with a force of between 200 and 300 Newtons. It takes 245 N to crack a walnut and 3400 N to break a brick. A good karate chop delivers 4900 N of force, almost 3 times the force of a Thylacoleo bite.


What’s biting you? The Null guide to ten deadly biters:

Mosquitoes

Wipe out 2 million every year (malaria rather than the mozzy).

Vampire bats

Disappointingly few fatalities, vampires are more nibblers than gnashers it seems.

Dogs

More than 50,000 deaths every year, mostly through rabies - their bark is definitely not worse than their bite!

Snakes

An estimated 100,000 deaths per year worldwide.

Spiders

About twenty people per year fatally fall into their web.

Sharks

There are fewer than 100 shark attacks and only about 10-15 deaths per year. Nice try Jaws.

Bears

Cause about five grizzly deaths per year.

Blue ringed octopus

Death is rare, one every few years. Boring.

Saltwater crocodile

About 1,000 people get munched each year - in you later alligator.

Big cats

A roaring 1,500 deaths per year from tigers, lions, and leopards.


Data from E-medicine health, WHO and other sources.

More strange goings on in the animal world:

- Scary - When pets go bad
- Weird - Suicide squirrels
- Harsh - Grandad kills mad rodent
- Funny - The 'truth' about  big cats in Britain

Title image: Miles Pfefferle


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