Sanibel Sea School Blog

Let’s Take a Bite into Fish Dentition!

July 15, 2020

By Sam Lucas

Fish teeth are adapted to meet their specific dietary needs. Fish can be carnivorous, omnivorous or herbivorous and their teeth reflect their diet. Depending on the species, fish teeth can be located in numerous places besides the upper and lower jaw. They can also be found in the lips, mouth, tongue, and even within their throat! The four main categories of fish teeth are canines, molars, incisors and fused into plates. 

The four main types of fish teeth.
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Canines are commonly seen in carnivorous fish – they are cone-like in shape and used for piercing and latching onto prey. Although not sharp like canines, incisors are used to cut, but are extremely varied in shape. For example, they can appear similar to human teeth or in the case of parrotfish, are fused into a beak. Molars are completely different. They are flat, wide and used to crush and grind food. Bottom-dwelling fish often have these types of teeth, using them to eat armored or shelled animals

One species of fish that has a famous set of teeth in our local waters is the sheepshead. Sheepshead are found throughout the Atlantic Ocean from Canada into the Gulf of Mexico. These fish prefer coastal waters near structures such as jetties, seawalls, piers, oyster bars, and mangrove roots. 

The sheepshead is omnivorous, feeding on a variety of plants and animals such as blue crabs, oysters, clams, crustaceans, and small fish. To match their unique diet, sheepshead have three types of teeth each with a different function – incisors, molars, and grinders. This robust set of teeth is powerful and able to crush and then grind up-armored and shelled prey. 

When you are out fishing, take a good look into the mouths of the fish that you catch. It may surprise you!

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