Discover the Fish with terrifying ‘Human Teeth’

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: May 2, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Willard
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Imagine fishing off a dock when you feel a tug on the line. Happy to have a bite, you reel in the catch, only to discover a monstrosity of a fish. Looking at you in the face is a black and white fish with bulging eyes and teeth that look like dentures. For some people, that would be the end of their fishing career. Today, however, we are going to learn all about these common fish and why they have such strange teeth. Let’s discover the fish with terrifying human teeth!

What kind of fish has human teeth?

sheepshead
Sheepshead fish are famous for their strange, denture-like teeth.

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The sheepshead fish is a marine fish with teeth that look eerily similar to a human.

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Sheepshead fish (Archosargus probatocephalus) is famously known for its human-like teeth. Much to the amusement of some and the fear of others, these goofy-looking fish are often caught by fishermen! Their name originates from 1884 when people saw the fish and thought the teeth looked like sheep teeth.

Today, most people don’t regularly interact with sheepshead, leading them to view them as human-like. Regardless, it sure does look like these fish have a hearty set of dentures in its mouth!

Let’s discover a bit more about the sheepshead and learn if you live near this strange fish.

What is a Sheepshead Fish?

A sheepshead fish is a marine fish that lives in saltwater environments. They are medium-sized fish that usually grow to 10-20 inches in length. Their bodies are flat and round, and their fins can stand at attention when threatened.

Sheepshead fish are silver across their bodies and have five or six black stripes that run vertically from their spine to their belly. They are quite easy to identify, especially with their distinct teeth and bulging eyes.

Why does the Sheepshead have human-like teeth?

Although their teeth may look like something out of a creepy novel, they actually have a use for them! Sheepshead have a few teeth in their mouths, although the front teeth are what they are famous for. Their teeth are laid out in rows and are all dull and stubby. Overall, their mouth is hard, and the rows of teeth take up most of the space.

Sharp teeth are used for tearing and biting, but sheepshead teeth are extremely dull. Their dull teeth are perfectly designed for crushing the shells of their favorite prey. Using their strong mouths and dull teeth, they can bite through the shells of clams, crush oysters, and pick barnacles off of standing structures in the water.

The favorite foods for sheepshead are oysters, clams, bivalves, barnacles, crabs, and crustaceans. All of these creatures have tough shells, and the specially evolved teeth of the sheepshead help them eat these hard animals. In fact, many fishermen will take buckets of muscles or oysters on charters. When they arrive at the preferred location, they smash some of the shells up and dump the bucket into the water. In many situations, the sheepshead will swarm to the location in order to feed on their favorite food.

Where does the Sheepshead live?

sheepshead fish
The sheepshead fish lives across the east coast, from Nova Scotia to Brazil.

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Sheepshead can be found along the western Atlantic. They range as far north as Nova Scotia and as far south as Brazil. The highest concentration of sheepshead are in Florida, but they are found all across the east coast.

Within their range, sheepshead prefer places with ocean structures or places with rocky bottoms where their prey hangs out. Fishermen cast around jetties, docks, bridges, and piers because sheepshead often feed on the barnacles and muscles that often congregate around these structures.

Can you Catch Sheepshead?

Despite their looks, many fishermen intentionally seek sheepshead as a sport and food fish. They aren’t hard to catch, but they are well-known for stealing bait off of hooks since the hook isn’t always easy to lodge in their hard mouths. Most individuals are 3-4 lbs, but larger fish can reach up to 15 lbs.

Although they aren’t commercially caught, sheepshead can be eaten. Due to their diet, they are known to have a slightly shellfish-like taste that many people enjoy. Their meat is flaky and tender and is perfect for grilling, frying, or baking. Anglers love to catch these fish to bring home dinner after a day of charters!

Do Sheepshead Bite?

Like most living creatures, placing your finger close to the mouth of a sheepshead is likely to result in a bite. Aside from being painful, there is little danger associated with being bitten. Additionally, sheepshead have sharp dorsal fins that dissuade predators from biting them, and a poke can be quite painful. Still, these fish aren’t dangerous to humans in any real way.

sheepshead fish
Because of its vertical stripes, the Sheepshead Fish is also called the Convict Fish.
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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

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