Why the Narwhal is not a unicorn?

While watching one of these famous and beautiful “Our Planet” documentary (you definitely need to watch it btw), we rediscovered this mystical animal: the narwhal. He inspired many legends about unicorn and since humans have discovered the beast, we have been fascinated of this crazy world.

But, what is this loooong horn? What is the point and what is the goal? Is it a real unicorn? Our team leads the investigation for you. Let’s go!

First of all, lets be honest with ourselves. The narwhal, although also nicely called unicorn of the seas, is neither more nor less than a cetacean. Yes yes, let it be known, whale,  dolphins, narwhals, all the same.

As a “horn”, it is actually a tooth, an incisor of the left maxillary. It occurs in both males and females at about one year old, at the end of puberty. It can, at the end of growth, reach 3 m length, impressive! This tooth is twisted from left to right from its end towards the animal. The meaning of the twist would indicate the laterality of the animal, ie it would be mostly right-handed (woo, what a news, incredible! I feel that you will look more clever during your fancy fast-food dinner).

You couldn’t tell right ?
CC – Tengumi – Flickr

It is always nice to know, but what is the purpose of this twist? Well, first of all, a twistless defense has a difficulty to grow in a slender way (think of the savanna animals, like elephants for instance). It is still easier to move in the water with something hydrodynamic than biscornus. Then, it allows him to increase its exchange surface between its sensors and the water. And yes, this tooth serves as a sensor for the narwhal. It can contain tens of millions of nerve endings that observe the slightest change in temperature, pressure and salinity of the seawater. And so on, for hunting, it is better. This deep decoding of his environment also allows him to predict the migration periods that depend on the melting ice. For its reproduction his tooth is also very useful. With its millions of sensors, the narwhal can easily detect female hormones and go conquer his heart (wooo, it is so romantic).

On the other hand, as it has already been though, it does not serve him as a harpoon or icebreaker, because it is too sensitive, nor is it a sexual object because the females also have it.

Other facts: if like us, you thought that this tooth was perfectly rigid, we are all wrong. Indeed, it can bend several tens of centimeters in any direction. It bends but does not break, like bamboo. The animal is able to repair it with small pebbles to make fillings on its caries. On the other hand, the horn does not push back if it breaks.

That’s it, you know (almost) everything about this impressive tooth, as nature is well done. Moral of the story: teeth are important, so brush them often!


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