Tetrapod Teeth and Tales is a blog written by Ian Corfe. I’m a postdoctoral researcher in the Jernvall EvoDevo lab, Institute of Biotechnology, University of Helsinki, Finland.

In this blog, I’m going to try to:

1 – Show the diversity of teeth and their ‘endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful’ (Darwin 1859 in ‘On the Origin of Species…’. He wasn’t talking specifically about teeth, but I think it’s appropriate)

2 – Examine some of the current scientific research on teeth being carried out by the Helsinki tooth group, from palaeontological studies to evolutionary and developmental biology

3 – Showcase what I feel are interesting recent scientific publications on teeth from the wider research world

What’s a tetrapod, anyway?

The traditional definition of Tetrapoda, or tetrapods, is that they are vertebrates which have limbs with digits (fingers or toes). The name is from the ancient greek for ‘four-footed’. In terms of living animals, this means amphibians (frogs & toads, salamanders, and caecilians) plus amniotes (mammals, birds, crocodiles and snakes & lizards). Snakes and caecilians don’t have limbs or digits, but these have been lost during evolution and both groups evolved from ancestors which did have them and so are grouped with other amniotes. The earliest tetrapods were amphibious animals like Acanthostega and Icthyostega. Recent changes to the way we classify species have led to definitions of Tetrapoda that make more sense to scientists, but perhaps add confusion to discussions at the general public level – see this Tree of Life webpage for more details.

Simply put, pretty much any vertebrate that isn’t a fish is a tetrapod, allowing me to look at a huge range of teeth types in these different and numerous animals! I may even jump outside of Tetrapoda occasionally to look at fish teeth and the origin of teeth, but Tetrapoda alliterated better with the rest of the blog name…



  1. dave gibson

    hello..i came here by way of SVPow.as a camper i see and pick up quite a few bones and teeth i find laying around in the forest. as there are no Sauropods left in Minnesota i’ll be back to your site to check up on those teeth i find.

  2. iancorfe

    Hi Dave – thanks for the comment. I understand that Minnesota is really pretty similar to here in Finland, in that the glaciers of the last ice age carried away most of the sedimentary rocks containing fossils. As with Minnesota, we have a few post ice-age mammal fossils including mammoths, quite a few Ordovician marine invertebrates like trilobites and shelly brachiopods etc., and not a great deal else. You’re actually doing better than us in terms of dinosaurs with your one, somewhat scrappy, unidentified species of hadrosaur – in Finland there are no dinosaurs known!

    Do you think the teeth and bones you are finding are fossils, or remains of animals that have recently died? Occasionally it can be difficult to tell – the older they are, the less like a freshly dead animal the remains look in general, but I have 200 million year old mammal teeth that look like they came out of an animal that died yesterday! It might be worth taking them to a local museum if you think they might be fossils, someone there would be happy to take a look at them I’m sure. Otherwise, there are a few good books on mammal tooth shapes and identification (Simon Hillsons ‘Teeth’, Peter Ungars ‘Mammal Teeth: Origin, Evolution, and Diversity’) but as far as I know not really any great websites. I’d imagine the most common remains of large recently died mammals would be deer and elk/moose etc – what size are the remains you’re finding? Beyond that, I’m not sure how well you’ll be able to ID teeth from blog posts on here, as there is such a range of interesting animal teeth from all ages I’m hoping to look at, so it might take me a while to get to the ones you’re finding! But please do ask any questions when you next find some teeth/bones…

  3. david gibson

    hello again.you are right about the lack of good fossils here in Minnesota.we live just a short walk from the Mississippi river and finding brachiopods is easy.there is a park close by where we are allowed to search and bring home fossil shells if you have a permit,which is free for the asking.
    on canoe trips i find the remains of Moose killed by wolves and bring home teeth and other bones.
    i also have beaver teeth but that is a rare find.is it possible to send photos of these finds to you?

  4. Ian Corfe

    Hi David – sorry for the long delay in replying! Moose teeth I know, we have plenty of those in Finland, beaver teeth I’m less familiar with other than the heavy duty incisors. Can you stick the images on a site like fotopic and send a link?

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