If your teeth suddenly started growing out through your face, you would understandably become quite concerned. You’d probably very quickly see a specialist. For the male babirusa, however, this is a perfectly normal stage of growing up. Babirusa puberty, it seems, is a bit more extreme than our own.
As you can see, the babirusa is a grotesque, nightmarish version of a normal pig. The male has two pairs of tusks, which are actually elongated canine teeth. The lower pair, like in many pigs, grows up and out of the mouth, curving above the upper lip. The upper pair of canines, on the other hand, takes a more direct route. At first, they grow downwards like other teeth in the upper jaw, but then the dental socket in which they are so firmly rooted rotates a full 180°, forcing these upper canines to grow up and through the babirusa’s snout, piercing the muzzle and curling back towards the forehead. This highly unusual arrangement means that none of the babirusa’s four canines are actually in its mouth.
The babirusa comes from a few Indonesian islands such as Sulawesi and Buru and its name is actually Indonesian for ‘deer-hog’. In the past, these animals were kept by the rulers of Sulawesi and given as gifts to visiting diplomats. Their bizarre and rather unsettling appearance has given rise to many local legends among the people of Sulawesi, and demonic masks made by the islanders often resemble this tusked animal.
But why on earth would the babirusa possess teeth that pierce their own face? The short answer is that we aren’t quite sure yet. It is possible that since only males have them, they are used by rivals to size up one another – the bigger the tusks, for example, the stronger the male. Occasionally, fights occur and males rear up on their hind legs to attack one another with them, but they are surprisingly brittle and easily broken.
Oh, and one more problem. As a male gets older and his tusks become longer and more curved, he needs to grind them regularly otherwise this might happen…
Getting impaled in the head by your own teeth. Surely one of the most avoidable causes of death in the known world. Apparently not for the unfortunate babirusa that the skull above once belonged to, but it just goes to show that dental hygiene, even in the babirusa world, is paramount.