Toothsome Tanzania: The Deadliest Bites on Safari

Written by Thomson Safaris

lion roar

We’ve probably all claimed to be “fighting tooth and nail” for something important, but in the wild, when the something important is your ability to survive, those weapons need to pack a serious punch…or bite.

We’ve talked before about how important claws are to an animal’s survival, but a bite—especially a predator’s—is equally vital; it may be the only chance an animal has to either defend itself or bring down prey.

For these five creatures—which boast some of the strongest jaws not only in Africa, but in the entire animal kingdom—it’s safe to say the bite is much worse than the bark…

(But don’t worry, your Land Rover will keep you plenty far away from these marvelous mandibles!).


At first blush, a lion’s bite—which has been measured at a force of upwards of 650 pounds/square inch (psi)—might seem extremely powerful; after all, the average adult human bites with a force of about 150 psi, and anyone who’s ever been on the wrong end of an angry toddler (and his or her considerably weaker jaws) knows how painful even our measly 100-200 psi can be.

But lions, believe it or not, have one of the weaker bites among the big cats; both jaguars and tigers bite more powerfully (cheetahs have weaker bites, and leopard bites haven’t been measured). Their bites can afford to be “weak”; lions kill their prey by crushing the throat, not by the sheer force of their attack. For that, 650 psi is more than enough “bite.”

Update: Recent research has shown the bite force of lions may be more than originally thought – closer to 1,000 psi.


People think of them as just carrion-eaters, but with a 1,100 psi bite, hyenas are extremely deadly predators in their own right.

That bite helps them whether they’re taking down food in a pack, or simply picking over leftovers; hyenas are known to crush through bone while they feed, eating every part of a kill. I guess you can think of them as the original “nose to tail” eaters?

Safari animals bite force infographicAnimal bite force measured in pounds/square inch (psi)


They’ve earned a reputation as gentle giants, but don’t push it with gorillas; their jaws can clamp down with a force of over 1,300 psi!

Why would a gorilla need that kind of power? After all, they’re herbivores, right? And they like to do sign language with us?

True, but in the wild, struggles for dominance between silverback troop leaders can grow violent, even deadly (at least in part thanks to that brutal bite).


They’re often cited as the deadliest animal to humans in all of Africa (though there are other contenders for that title), and one look at a hippo’s massive mouth tells you why. Not only do they sport teeth that can grow up to two feet long and weigh in at over 6 ½ pounds, they can wield these natural weapons with forces of over 1,800 psi.

And they’re notoriously ornery. Basically, it would be smarter to avoid the hippos…


You’ll be crying more than crocodile tears if you ever have the misfortune to be bitten by one. That’s because at 3,700 psi, the crocodile’s bite is not only the strongest in the Serengeti, it’s the strongest in the world. Period.

Strangely enough, though, a crocodile’s fearsome jaws can be disarmed fairly easily. In fact a simple rubber band can prevent the animal from opening its mouth. All that clamping musculature apparently left no room for the reverse variety.

You feel free to test out the rubber band theory. We’ll just be cowering as far away from the river as possible.