Extreme Animals Competition: Saltwater Crocodile v. Helicoprion

Illustrations of a crocodile and a shark with spiral teeth

In the Extreme Animals Competition, we’re looking at some of the fastest, fiercest, and strongest members of the animal kingdom. While the prehistoric shark Helicoprion went extinct millions of years ago and saltwater croc still roams today, these two competitors in the Scary Chompers category both have some impressive jaws.

Saltwater crocodile: Patient, powerful attacker

Vital stats: 

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A large crocodile with mouth open lying in the sun

  • Super strong bite force
  • Up to 20 feet in length
  • Hides underwater waiting for prey

Stealth and strength make the saltwater croc (Crocodylus porosus) a force to be reckoned with—especially when it comes to bite force. With a chomp sometimes compared to T. rex’s relative to size, the saltwater crocodile (saltie) has the strongest bite force ever measured in a living animal. A test found that their jaws can snap shut with 3,700 pounds per square inch (psi), compared to about 1,000 psi for lions and other large cats.

Despite a ferocious nature, saltwater crocs generally try to not move around very much, as this is actually a big part of their hunting strategy. They wait just below the water’s surface with only their eyes and nose exposed. When prey like other reptiles, birds, fish, or mammals like boar get close, the crocs use their powerful tail and legs to charge out of the water.

Helicoprion: Mysterious spiral-toothed shark

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An illustration of a gray shark with spiral teeth in its lower jaw

Vital stats: 

  • Buzzsaw jaw
  • New teeth constantly added
  • Up to 25 feet in length

This prehistoric shark had a terrifying mouthful of teeth. Arranged in a spiral shape called a “tooth whorl,” Helicoprion’s chompers are often compared to a buzzsaw. It was long thought that this spiral of pointy fangs could be whipped out to ensnare small fish swimming by. But it’s now believed that this terrifying mess of teeth was enclosed in Helicoprion’s lower jaw and had cutting action somewhat like a circular saw. New teeth would continually form at the back of the lower jaw, adding to Helicoprion’s rows of dental ammunition. But the shark didn’t have any teeth on its upper jaw, suggesting that its tooth whorl was used to feed on soft creatures like cephalopods. This extinct shark patrolled the waters about 250 million years ago, so the exact formation and use of such elaborate jaws may always be a mystery.