Barracuda (the fish, not the song) are famously fearsome, streamlined marine hunters. They belong to the Sphyraenidae family of fish, and are known for their particularly fearsome teeth. They’re piscivorous, which means they eat only fish. Barracuda can be found in many of the world’s tropical and subtropical oceans, and prefer to do their hunting in shallow waters, around coral reefs, and among fields of seagrass.
Here, we’ll learn more about the barracuda’s specialized teeth, and what they use them for. We’ll go over each type of tooth, and learn more about how barracudas use all of their teeth to bring down fish. Then, we’ll analyze just how dangerous barracuda are to humans, and what their teeth are made of. Finally, we’ll take a look at the unique system barracudas have for replacing lost or damaged teeth.
What Kind of Teeth Do Barracudas Have?
If you were to see a barracuda skull, you might think it was the skull of a dragon. And you wouldn’t be too far off. Barracudas come with a startling array of weaponry in their mouths that would give many predators a run for their money. They often compete with dolphins for food.
Each tooth is pointed, with only one cusp, like a dagger. When a barracuda loses a tooth, it simply grows a new one. Each tooth is made of enamel, dentin, and pulp–just like a human tooth. The enamel forms a hard layer on the outside of the tooth, while the dentin forms the body of the tooth. Underneath it all is the pulp. It’s filled with blood vessels and nerves, and is considered the living heart of the tooth.
How Many Teeth Do Barracudas Have?
Though there is no hard and fast rule as to how many teeth barracudas have, most have over 100, and some have as many as 200. The larger the barracuda (they can grow up to six feet long), the more teeth they have.
Barracuda teeth are often compared to piranha teeth, and it’s no wonder; when the barracuda opens its mouth, it reveals a staggering array of dagger-like teeth. They have one row of teeth on their bottom jaw, and two on the top. They’ve also got an underbite, which gives them a hooked jaw appearance.
Unlike other toothed fish, barracudas actually have sockets in their jaws that their teeth fit into. So, they’re able to fully close their mouths–and conceal the fearsome teeth from view until they’re ready to attack.
Barracudas have an outer row of small, saw-like teeth along their upper jaws. These teeth are packed close together, and aid in sawing off chunks of flesh, or ripping smaller fish apart. Compared to the inner row of teeth, the outer row is almost unnoticeable; but what they lack in size, they make up for in effectiveness.
The largest teeth in the barracuda’s mouth are located in the inner row. These teeth are massive in relation to the mouth–they jut straight down (not backwards, like a snake’s teeth). Their primary purpose is to grip fish when the barracuda is hunting and eating.
Like sharks, the bigger the ‘cuda’, the larger its teeth. Most have inner teeth between 1-1.5 inches long, though fishermen like to tell stories of specimens with even larger teeth. Barracudas have an inner row of these monster teeth on both their top and bottom jaw.
How Do Barracudas Hunt?
Barracudas are carnivores; more specifically, they’re piscivorous–meaning they only eat fish. Though their primary targets are smaller fish, they are also known for attacking fish even bigger than they are. They’re opportunistic hunters, and have even been observed tearing chunks from much larger creatures, like dead whales.
When barracudas hunt, they employ a ‘ram feeding’ method. First–they sight their prey. Then, they position their bodies, and sprint (swimming of course) at the target. If all goes well, the barracuda snaps its jaws down on the fish before it even knows what’s happening.
Once the barracuda has a fish in its mouth, it uses its powerful jaw muscles and unique dental setup to slice the fish up. Together with the teeth, the jaws act like a big pair of scissors, with the most forceful part of the bite being at the back of the mouth, the same way household scissors work.
Do Barracudas Bite People?
Barracudas may look scary, and smaller fish should certainly fear them–but humans are safe from their lethal bites. Cases of barracuda attacking people are exceedingly rare, and there are no recorded fatalities. Though they are a popular target for sport fishermen, barracudas would rather leave humans alone, and find something else to eat (or bite).
There have been some rare cases of barracudas biting people, but these incidents are almost always by mistake. If a barracuda happens to bite a person, it almost always swims off immediately afterward.
Barracudas are polyphyodonts, which means they go through several sets of teeth in their lifetime, the same way sharks do. In comparison, humans are diphyodonts–we have two sets of teeth in our lifetimes; milk teeth, and adult teeth.
It’s important that barracudas be able to replace lost or broken teeth. They frequently prey on fish that may struggle to escape once caught in the barracuda’s jaws, and may break teeth in the process. A toothless barracuda wouldn’t be much good at all–in fact, it would probably die sooner rather than later.
So, no matter how big or how old–all barracudas have teeth. Their teeth are strikingly formidable, but, luckily–they’re only used on fish, not humans.
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