Activity 6: Do at the Museum!

The Tooth Tells a Tale


Even though we cannot go back in time and walk with ancient animals we can still learn a lot about how these animals made a living by examining their teeth and bones. Animal teeth are different shapes for eating different kinds of foods. In this activity match the fossil tooth with the food that animal might have eaten.

You will need:

  • wooly mammoth tooth
  • mastodon tooth
  • saber-tooth cat tooth

These are available at PRI in the exhibit area, and, through collaboration, at Syracuse MOST and Utica Children's Museum.

These teeth are both from hairy elephants (mastodons and mammoths) that used to roam across this region during the Ice Age. Sometimes people find these fossils in their backyards and ponds! Run your hand over the top of each tooth and look at the shape and pattern of bumps and ridges on each tooth.

Draw a line between these fossil elephant teeth and the food they may have eaten.

[Teeth of extinct mammals and their food]

Examine the saber-tooth cat's tooth. How is this tooth different from the mammoth and mastodon teeth?

What do you think this cat liked to eat?

Fact: The saber-tooth cat is often called a saber-tooth "tiger," but is not actually a kind of tiger.

Extension: Think of a type of food you like and draw a picture of a tooth that would be a good shape for eating that kind of food.

Main Message: In this exercise students learn how the diet and lifestyle of ancient animals can be read from skeletal clues such as fossil teeth.

Connections: Activity 7 reveals clues for learning about the environments of Ice Age mammals.


The Paleontological Research Institution
1259 Trumansburg Road
Ithaca, NY 14850 phone: 607-273-6623 fax: 607-273-6620
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