Animal bite force is a complex science and you’re likely to find all kinds of conflicting figures, regardless of whether you measure in PSI (pounds per square inch), Newtons of force, or pounds of force. On top of this, conducting bite force tests is difficult and rarely a top priority for scientists studying animals.
If that’s true, how can we be sure which animals have the strongest bites in the world? Thanks to the testing some scientists have conducted and sophisticated computer modeling, we can determine a credible estimate of what an animal’s peak biting power could be.
Before we get to the top ten strongest bite forces in the animal kingdom, we’ll explain how bite forces are measured, why it matters for animals, and how we can model them.
What is Bite Force?
Bite force, put simply, is the amount of force exerted on teeth during a bite. Essentially, it refers to how hard an animal can close its mouth, and how much force it exerts as it does so.
Most of the time, bite force is measured in pounds per square inch or PSI for short. This measurement refers to how many pounds of force is exerted on one square inch.
If you’re familiar with scuba diving, you understand water pressure is exerted in PSI terms. It’s how many pounds of pressure is exerted on each square inch of your body. Bite forces are measured in the same way.
An animal’s bite force in many cases is size-dependent. Larger animals tend to have stronger bites. It’s also imperative that the animals have strong enough teeth, proper skull structure, and powerful jaw muscles adapted to flex their jaws with such force.
Why Does Bite Force Matter?
In nature, having a strong bite force is incredibly useful. As a predator, being able to exert massive amounts of pressure when you bite into prey can kill, incapacitate, or trap and hold prey. It can also let you crack open bones to get to the marrow inside of them.
For herbivores, stronger bite forces allow them to chew through tough food like bamboo, crunch through nuts and seeds, and help defend themselves from predators in a pinch.
Many animals with the highest bite forces are considered apex predators, and the power of their jaws helps make them efficient hunters.
How Do People Calculate Or Test Bite Force?
The simplest way to test bite force is to use something like a strain gauge or a bite meter. You have the animal bite down on the device and it electronically measures the force that is pressed on it. The scales are similar to electronic scales people use to check their weight.
Of course, it isn’t exactly easy to capture and handle many of the strongest animals, nor can you just ask the animal nicely to bite as hard as possible on some metal plate scale. It would be incredibly hard to do this with sharks for example.
Computer modeling and rough estimates become helpful when determining an animal’s bite force.
One thing that helps determine bite force is looking at what animals are capable of. It’s kind of similar to the way you use feats to power scale your favorite superheroes, but much more accurate.
For example, if you know an animal can shatter a femur bone of an antelope, you can then measure the force needed to do the same thing. It gives you an accurate baseline minimum of the animal’s bite force potential.
Thanks to our in-depth understanding and study of animal anatomy, we can use computer modeling to help calculate bite force. If we understand the correlation to skull size and shape, as well as rough estimates of how much force jaw muscles can exert, we can model and run simulations to determine a fairly accurate estimate of what an animal’s bite force should be.
What Determines Bite Force?
Honestly, quite a lot goes into what determines bite force. The largest factors include skull shape, bone density, plasticity, jaw muscles, diet, and tooth replacement.
The shape of the skull and jaw are important when calculating bite force. A narrower jaw leads to the force being spread over a smaller area. Sloped and angled skulls provide better leverage and better anchor points for larger jaw muscles as well.
If you’re going to exert a lot of force with some part of your body, you need your bones to be strong enough to do it and not shatter. Many animals can shatter or break bones with their jaws, but their own bones don’t break when they do so. There are many reasons for this, but mainly it’s because they have highly dense jaw and skull bones, as well as favorable angles for exerting that force.
Plasticity is important for both the skull and jawbones. It was theorized for a long time that a T-rex could shatter its own skull with a bite force as powerful as it likely had. Just like T-rex, many animals have flexible joints built into their skulls that act as shock absorbers and allow the skull and jaws to flex, keeping that force from rebounding on themselves.
Your jaw muscles are what allow you to open and close your mouth. While we didn’t develop super-strong jaw muscles, many animals did. Stronger and larger jaw and neck muscles contribute to having a stronger bite force.
Along the evolutionary line, all species adapt and change based on their food sources. Adaptations like being able to crush your prey’s skull like a jaguar make hunting safer and more efficient. Being able to chew through hard roots and shoot like gorillas makes more food available than if they relied only on fruit or soft shoots.
These are examples of animals naturally developing stronger jaws to accommodate their food sources.
It isn’t always necessary, but the ability to replace teeth is important for animals with massive bite forces that chew through bone. Sharks and crocodiles species go through hundreds, if not thousands, of teeth during their lifetime. If you’re going to bite as hard as some of these animals, you either better have incredibly strong teeth or the ability to replace them quickly.
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Top 10 Strongest Bite Force In The World
Keep in mind that figures for animals can differ, and while accurate estimates exist for most animals, rankings are subject to change. We’ll be using the PSI of the bite force and ranking them based on total PSI while ignoring relative body size.
10. Tiger (1,050 psi)
Bengal Tigers typically weigh between 250 to 500 pounds (113.39 kg to 226.79 kg) . These big cats are most populous throughout India and China, however, they are an endangered species thanks to their beautiful fur and the use of their bodies in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Their Siberian cousins are larger, weighing in at nearly 1,000 pounds (453.59 kg). For the most part, tigers are solitary hunters and their massive bite force allows them to quickly take down their preferred prey: large animals like deer and wild boar. Once they bite down on the prey animal’s throat, the animal can’t escape and is then suffocated.
9. Spotted Hyena (1,100 psi)
While they are great hunters, packs of hyenas are also scavengers that won’t turn their nose up at eating from other predators’ kills. They’re also locked in an unending rivalry with lions, as they both hunt the same prey species, occupy the same territories, and regularly steal food from one another.
They have an arched skull and huge jaw muscles that allow them to crack into thick animal bones to eat the marrow inside. Their ability to use bones as extra food sources is one of the reasons that hyenas do well even when prey becomes scarce.
8. Grizzly Bear (1,000 to 1,200 psi)
Everything about the North American grizzly bear is strong. A typical specimen stands seven feet tall (2.13 m) and weighs around 800 pounds (362.87 kg). These omnivorous animals eat everything from fruits and nuts to fish and animals as large as moose.
Grizzly bears can bite through bone, small trees, and legends say even cast iron skillets with relative ease.
7. Polar Bear (1,200 psi)
Larger than their grizzly cousins, polar bears inhabit the Arctic regions and primarily feed on large prey animals. These 1,200 plus pound (544.31 kg) bears are semi-aquatic, and their webbed paws make them excellent swimmers.
The huge bite force of polar bears allows them to get through the thick skin, feathers, and blubber of the prey they run into in their natural habitat. They mostly feed on seals, whale carcasses, and anything else they can run down.
6. Gorilla (1,300 psi)
Gorillas are covered in muscle, but their especially thick necks are what drives their bite force. The critically endangered, largest primate species is a fairly shy herbivore, despite their incredibly long and intimidating canine teeth. Check out this article to know how strong is a gorilla!
Gorillas eat plants, but much of their diet consists of roots, bamboo shoots, and other tough plant matter. Their bite force allows them to grind up and consume these kinds of food, instead of relying on young shoots and fruit.
5. Jaguar (1,500 psi)
Of all the big cats, jaguars have the strongest bite force. Instead of dragging down their prey like other big cats, they attack by grabbing their prey’s skull in their mouth and crushing it. Their teeth and jaws are capable of biting through the thick hide of caiman, turtle shells, and crushing the skulls of mammals like capybaras.
Jaguars are found in North and South American rainforests, and typically grow to have a five to six-foot-long (1.52 m to 1.82 m) body, three-foot (0.91 m) tail, and weigh roughly 250 pounds (113.39 kg).
4. Hippopotamus (1,800 psi)
Of all living mammals, hippos have the strongest bite. They use their huge canines and incisors to fend off would-be predators of their young and fight with one another. Hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa, each year accounting for more human deaths than any other animal.
Hippo aggression isn’t just directed at people. While they share the same water, they hate crocodiles, and it’s been documented that a hippo can bite a ten-foot (3.04 m) croc in half.
3. American Alligator (2,150 psi)
Alligators are the largest reptile in North America and have a bite force to match. They can snap their jaws shut incredibly quickly, crushing or biting their prey in half. The power of their jaws comes from the incredibly strong jaw muscles that close the mouth.
Funnily enough, the muscles that open their mouths are ridiculously weak in comparison, and you can hold their mouth shut with only your hands. Alligators mostly feed on fish, wading birds, turtles, and small mammals.
2. Great White Shark (4,000 psi)
The great white comes in second on the list simply because its bite force is modeled and not tested. A 2008 study used X-Rays and computer modeling to determine what a white shark’s bite force would be. It found that a 21-foot (6.40 m) white shark could exert a bite force of roughly 4,000 psi, making it the strongest bite force of all living animals.
White sharks are found around the world in areas like the Northeastern United States, Pacific Ocean, Australia, and South Africa. They’re top apex predators, only fearing larger white sharks and killer whales.
1. Saltwater Crocodile (3,700 psi)
Of all animals that have been tested, the saltwater crocodile had the highest bite force. The highest reading of the tests was from a 17-foot (5.18 m) saltie that exerted over 3,700 PSI. You can find more information on the National geographic study here.
Saltwater crocodiles frequently reach lengths over twenty feet (6.09 m) and weigh over 2,000 pounds (907.18 kg). The largest populations of saltwater crocodiles are found in India, Australia, and Southeastern Asia.
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Other Bite Forces
11. Lion (650 psi)
Despite their fearsome reputation and iconic status, lions only have a slightly higher bite force than mastiff dogs. They rely on hunting in groups, dragging down and suffocating prey, so they never needed a bite force as strong as the solitary tigers and jaguars.
12. Nile Crocodile (3,000 – 5,000 psi)
I’ve found conflicting numbers when it comes to Nile crocodiles. The one study I found only used an eight-foot (2.43 m) specimen and extrapolated that a 16-foot (4.87 m) specimen would have a bite around 3,000 PSI. I also found people who believed the bite could exceed 5,000 PSI. In the end, it was too murky to include them in the above top ten, but they likely have the strongest bite force behind saltwater crocodiles and white sharks.
13. Bull Shark (478 psi)
Bull sharks have the strongest bite of any shark when you factor in body size. They’re much smaller than white sharks, reaching typical sizes of nine feet and around 800 pounds. White sharks of a similar size would only be capable of around 360 PSI.
14. Black Piranha (72 psi)
You’re probably looking at the measly 72 PSI bite force of a black piranha and wondering why it got mentioned here. Black piranhas grow to around a foot in length and at most weigh in around eight pounds (3.62 kg). Their bite force of 72 PSI is massive in comparison to their body weight, and this measurement came from a fish weighing only around 2 ½ pounds (1.13 kg).
15. Tasmanian Devil (200 psi)
Tasmanian devils are thought to have the strongest bite force of any animal when you factor in the animal’s size. They weigh in at only 20 pounds (9.07 kg) but can exert 553 Newtons when they bite. They have the highest Bite Force Quotient (BFQ) of any living animal.
**Bite Force Quotient in simple terms is an animal’s bite force in newtons divided by its body mass in kilograms.
16. Orcas (19,000 psi)
While also untested, a killer whale can theoretically exert 19,000 psi in bite force. This is mainly due to their sheer size, as they can weigh up to six tons (6096.28 kg) and reach thirty feet (9.14 m) in length. Most evidence is based on simulations, theory, and captive whale studies, so it did not merit a spot on the list.
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Strongest Bite Force By Type of Animal
- Hippopotamus (1,800 psi)
- Jaguar (1,500 psi)
- Gorilla (1,300 psi)
- Polar Bear (1,200 psi)
- Spotted hyena (1,100 psi)
- Saltwater Crocodile (3,700 psi)
- Nile Crocodile (3,000-ish psi)
- American Alligator (2,150 psi)
- Snapping Turtle (1,000 + psi)
- Komodo Dragon (500-600 psi)
- Humbolt Squid (theoretical, 6,000 psi)
- Great White Shark (4,000 psi)
- Mako Shark (3,000 psi)
- Bull Shark (478 psi)
- Tiger Shark (300 psi)
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Human Bite Force: Comparison With Humans
On average, humans can exert a force of between 120 and 160 psi with their jaws. In simple pounds of force, we can exert up to 270 pounds (122.47 kg). Typically, men can exert a higher bite force than women. Most of the time, our bite force is determined by how well our teeth are aligned, how strong our teeth are, our diet, and several other factors.
Compared to most of the animal kingdom, our bite force is incredibly weak. Despite this, it’s fairly efficient and powerful in comparison to the structure of our skulls and muscles.
One reason humans don’t have higher bite forces is our diet. Some time between 1.8 million years ago and 400,000 years ago, we began cooking our food. Not only did this make food easier to digest, but also much easier to chew, break apart, and swallow.
Obviously, we also developed the use of tools. We used rocks to crack open nuts and pounded hard roots and plants to make them easier to eat. That took away the need for our jaws to break through these food sources.
As a result of this, we simply didn’t need to be able to bite as hard as other animals who have to rip and tear apart prey or chew up tough plants and shells.
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What About Dinosaurs?
Some of the largest and most powerful creatures to ever roam the Earth are now extinct. Apex predator dinosaurs like the Tyrannosaurus Rex and unmatched marine predators like the megalodon had incredibly strong jaws and crushing bite forces.
How Would We Even Know?
You might be wondering, if these animals are extinct, how would we have a clue about their bite force? The same kind of computer modeling and anatomical knowledge we use today to determine the bite force of animals like white sharks can be applied to dinosaurs.
We can generally look at fossils and determine where muscles were anchored on their skeletons by extrapolating data from currently living animals in the same evolutionary line. Taking this into account with data regarding skull structure, bone and tooth density, and muscle size, we can get a reasonable estimate of an extinct animal’s bite force.
Strongest Dinosaur Bite Force
The now extinct relative of modern-day piranhas, mega piranha, grew to around thirty pounds. Just like its ancestors living among us today, it had an incredibly strong bite for its size. In theory, mega piranha was capable of a bite between 279 and 1,067 psi.
Megalodon is an extinct species of shark that grew to lengths between 40 and sixty feet. The shark likely weighed well over thirty tons and fed primarily on whales and other extinct massive marine mammals. Most data regarding megalodon is an extrapolation based on their teeth, and with white sharks being close relatives, these estimates are likely accurate.
It’s estimated megalodon has a bite force between 20,000 and 40,000 psi depending on how large an individual had grown.
The infamous T-rex boasts likely one of the strongest overall bite forces of any land animal to ever exist. Their jaws were capable of putting out a force of over 35,0000 psi. This would have been extra helpful to take down the large megafauna it coexisted with and preyed on.