Arapaima Teeth: Do Arapaima Fish Have Teeth?

Arapaima Teeth - Arapaima teeth
© BLUR LIFE 1975/

Written by Taiwo Victor

Published: January 28, 2022

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Fierce and gigantic, if you ever see or come across an arapaima fish along the rainforest rivers of the Amazon, then you will certainly be frightened. It is unusual (and not to mention terrifying) for freshwater fish to grow too big, but the arapaima fish sure weren’t handed the handbook. Arapaima fish can measure up to 15 feet long, and not only does their humongous size make them terrifying, but their upturned mouths, when opened, show off a long line of small yet sharp, serrated Arapaima teeth. Arapaima fish are notoriously fierce when hunting their prey, and their bony teeth structure is sure to help a lot.

Commonly known as paiche in Peru and pirarucu in Brazil, the arapaima fish is one of the largest fish species inhabiting freshwater. These enormous marine creatures can weigh up to 440 pounds. Another unique thing about the arapaima fish is their inability to stay underwater for too long. Arapaima fish are air-breathers, meaning they only breathe oxygen and cannot stay underwater for more than 20 minutes. 

Do Arapaima Fish Have Teeth?

Arapaima Teeth - Arapaima

Arapaima fish have sharp and bony teeth that help in tearing their prey apart.

©Erik Klietsch/

Arapaima fish do not usually open their mouths, and when they do, you might only see a hollow, vacuum-like entrance. However, despite their usually closed upturned mouths on their wide, tapered heads, arapaima fish have sharp and bony teeth lining the upper and lower jaws that help them weaken and tear their prey apart. The tongues of arapaima are bony, and combined with their serrated roof palates, hunting down their prey is an easy feat. As an arapaima fish’s tongue is tough and possesses a bony structure, crashing them against the roof of their mouths is a powerful move that can effectively crush their prey.

As arapaima fish are air-breathers, they can feed in low-oxygen areas without a sweat, where gill-breathing fish species are often forced to slow down. 

What Kinds of Teeth Do Arapaima Fish Have?

Arapaima Teeth - Arapaima teeth

Arapaima fish have sharp and bony cardiform-like teeth

©BLUR LIFE 1975/

Arapaima fish have simple rows of hard, sharp, and bony cardiform-like teeth that line the roof of their palates. Using their bony tongues and toothed palates, they can easily crush their prey. Even though arapaima fish are generally omnivores who mainly feed on other fish, they are not equipped with sharp piercing teeth in front of their mouths.

Arapaima fish use a “gulper,” a sucking motion that vacuums the water near their prey. This gulper move acts like a suction-like vortex that pulls aquatic insects, smaller fish, and even birds and small mammals near or beneath the water surface back into their mouths. They do this by unhinging their bony jaws and pulling like a vacuum. The loud, unique gulp the arapaima fish makes can be heard from a long distance and is similar to a cough sound. Because arapaima fish need to swim to the surface at least every 15 minutes to breathe air, they also take advantage of these short moments to prey on animals waddling in the surface of the water, making loud and huge gulps here and there. 

Arapaima fish mostly survive on fish, but they can also eat fruits, seeds, nuts, and other reachable animals from the water surface. As arapaima fish are fierce when it comes to hunting, not to mention their huge bodies also call for hefty food, they are also observed to leap out of the water in short bursts of speed to grab prey within reach, such as birds, lizards, and even small mammals from low-hanging trees. 

Do Arapaima Fish Have Armors to Protect Themselves?

Apart from their enormous size, arapaimas are tough opponents because of their armored bodies. An arapaima’s body is built like a battle tank, armored with impenetrable scales that even the sharp, blade-like teeth and ferocious bites of deadly piranhas cannot pierce through their scales. The arapaima fish swims at the top portion of the list of fish possessing the strongest scales. So even though these enormous freshwater fish don’t have the sharpest teeth in the river, they do have the best protection. 

Even though arapaima fish live in the same freshwater habitat as piranhas, they are very much protected from the tiny fish’s attacks because their scales are strong enough to endure an attack by a school of piranhas. Their bite is no match to the giant arapaima’s scales, whose toughness is credited to their microscopic composition. However, these strong scales that protect them from predators in the wild are also why they are hunted.

What Are Arapaima Fish Hunted For?

The arapaima fish are often hunted for their meat, but their scales are mostly put into better use. Their scales are a good component in creating jewelry and other merchandise.

The arapaima fish populations are diminishing, mostly due to overfishing. They are dubbed as the “cod of the Amazon” as their salted, and dried meat can be preserved without the need for cooling. 

What Do Arapaima Fish Eat?

Arapaima Teeth - Arapaima

As omnivores, arapaima fish use their teeth to eat small fish, aquatic insects, and small mammals.


Arapaima fish eat a diet that consists of small fish, aquatic insects, fruits, seeds, small mammals like rodents and primates, birds, and amphibians that are within reach or at the water surface. Their strong, bony tongue, along with the tiny yet sharp teeth attached at the roof of their palates, enable them to incapacitate and rip their victims’ flesh apart.

Do Arapaima Fish Eat Humans?

Even though they are sometimes seen as “river monsters,” arapaima fish do not pose any threat to humans. People have been hunting these giant fish continuously, and there are rare reports of arapaima attacks. Even though they lack sharp teeth that can puncture human skin and flesh, their bony tongues are strong enough to crush anything it gets a grip on. However, since they are not normal human predators, they usually leave humans alone unless their young are threatened or attacked in any way.

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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