Mouths and Meals

 Return to Activities Table of Contents


life sciences, language arts




life's diversity, jaws and teeth as adaptations


one class period


text link


graphic link

You may print this activity
for educational use.


Before their visit, students will learn to... tell what an animal eats by looking at jaws and teeth.

Background Information

To help animals meet their survival needs, animals have developed special body parts, called adaptations [definition]. One body part that helps animals get food is the mouth.You can tell a lot about what an animal eats just by looking at its jaws and teeth. Animals that eat meat (carnivores) have pointed teeth that bite and rip their food. Animals that eat pl ants (herbivores) have flattened teeth that grind up plant material. Omnivores, which eat meat and plants, have teeth that rip and teeth that grind.

Compare a rhino [graphic], a chameleon [graphic] and a fly [graphic], and you'll notice they have different mouths.That's because they eat different foods. With fleshy lips and grinding teeth, the rhino's mouth is designed for cropping and chewing tough grasses or leaves. A chameleon, by comparison, eats insects [definition]. It doesn't need lips that crop or teeth that grind. Instead, it has a long, sticky tongue that snares insects from a distance. The fly approaches eating in a completely different way. It spits on its food to turn it into a mush, then sucks up the mush through its tube-shaped mouth.The rhino's lips and molars, the chameleon's sticky tongue and the fly's tube mouth ar e adaptations that help each survive.

This activity gives your students a closer look at jaws and teeth: how animals use them and what they can tell you about what an animal eats.



  • Pictures or fabricated sets of teeth: human, cat, rabbit, raccoon, horse, shark.


Feel your teeth with your tongue. Which ones do you use to take bites out of food? Which ones do you use to mash your food?

Do you think all animals have teeth like yours?



Read the descriptions below to your students and have them decide who each set of teeth belongs to. Or print these descriptions on paper. Have students read the descriptions and examine the sets of teeth. Have them record their answers. After everyone has had a chance to complete this activity, discuss the results.

Match each set of teeth with its owner.

I'm a meat eater (carnivore). I don't chew my food. I just take big bites, then swallow. I have long, sharp front teeth for catching prey. My back teeth are sharp and short for slicing big chunks of meat. Who am I? __________

I'm a plant eater (omnivore). I nibble on grasses and other plants all day. I have flat teeth with hard ridges for grinding the food I eat. Plants are tough and could easily wear down a good set of teeth. But my teeth never stop growing. Who am I? __ __________

I'll eat just about anything (omnivore). Sometimes I bite into meat so I need sharp teeth for that job. Other times I eat seeds or vegetables so I need flat teeth for that job. My teeth work well on just about anything I eat. Who am I? ____________

I'm a meat eater (carnivore), but I prefer to eat what's swimming nearby. I have a big mouth and take big bites. My teeth are very sharp and they grow in rows. Like a conveyor belt, the rows keep moving forward so as older teeth fall out they're replac ed by newer ones. Who am I? ____________


cat horse/rabbit human/raccoon shark


Which jaw and set of teeth do you think works best?

Which animals have teeth that keep growing?
What would it be like if your teeth continued to grow as you got older?

W hat would happen to you if your teeth weredesigned for eating only one type of food and you couldn't find that food? Do you know any wild animals that face that problem?


Research how each of the Robot Zoo animals eats. Write (or tell) a story about how each animal uses its mouth to obtain food. Include in the story a description of the jaw, teeth, and mouth, where the animal finds its food and how it eats.

Adapted from

Ontario Science Centre. Foodworks: Over 100 science activites and fascinating facts that explore teh magic of food. Reading, MA:Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1987.

Mystic Marine Life Aquarium Dept.Pre-, During and Post Activity Kits. Mystic, CT, Sea Research Foundation, 1992.

Additional Sources

Burnie, David. How Nature Works. Pleasantville, NY: Readers Digest Association, Inc., 1991.