Geese are long necked members of the Anatidae family known for their loud, honking calls. They’re the mothers in nursery rhymes, and the portents of coming winter. Many species, like the Canada goose, migrate annually, and they’re permanently monogamous. We call many waterfowl geese, but only a few, such as the snow goose and greylag goose, are true geese. Geese are recognizable all over the world, whether as overhead flying formations, or as farmyard pets. Many people have had geese hiss at them, and seen what look like teeth in their mouths, which leads to the question; do geese have teeth?
Here, we’ll discuss whether or not geese really have teeth, then we’ll check out the strange protrusions on their tongues that help them eat. We’ll learn about the goose’s alternative digestive and chewing methods. Finally, we’ll take a look at whether geese can bite, and if you should be afraid of them. Then, we’ll go over a few of the most important parts of keeping healthy farmyard geese.
Do Geese Have Teeth?
Geese don’t chew their food, so they don’t have any need for teeth. Instead, they have serrated edges on the inside of their bills called tomia. The tomia are small, evenly spaced, sharp, conical projections made of cartilage. They function, in most ways, as grips for food. Geese eat a lot of slippery foods, like aquatic plants and small fish, so it’s important they have these serrated edges. Otherwise, their food would slip right through their lips–or, bills.
Most often, the tomia are visible from the goose’s open mouth. But occasionally, they can be seen from the side, in what’s called a ‘grin patch’. Not all geese have grin patches, but when they do, they’re usually in the back half of the bill. The back part of the upper bill slants upwards, exposing the tomia, making it look like the goose has a sly smile on its beak. They’re not smiling though; the tomia in the grin patch act as a sieve for water when the goose feeds underwater.
Do Geese Really Have Teeth on Their Tongues?
You may have noticed another strange feature of the goose’s mouth–teeth on the tongue. But, not to worry; they’re not really teeth. Instead of smooth tongues, like ours, geese have tongues rimmed with spikes. These spikes are actually made of the same material as the tomia; cartilage. They’re hard, but semi-flexible (think of your upper ear). They’re also sharp, and jut out from the tongue at an angle.
The goose’s ‘tongue-teeth’ aren’t true teeth though; true teeth are made of dentin and covered in enamel, with a blood vessel and nerve filled pulp in the center. The tongue tomia have one very specific purpose; shredding food. Because geese can’t chew, they need a way to break up their food so they don’t choke on it–without using any teeth. That’s where the bill and tongue tomia come into play. They perform some of the same functions as teeth, without actually being teeth.
How Do Geese Chew?
Like all birds, geese swallow their food whole. Their tongue and beak tomia do some pre-shredding of the food, but it goes down the gullet largely unharmed. Before going to the stomach, the food makes a pit stop in the gizzard.
You may have seen geese snacking on pebbles or sand, this is why. They ingest small rocks and sandy soil to keep in their gizzards. When geese swallow food whole, their gizzards (full of rocks and sand) do the work of chewing. The pebbles roll around in the gizzard along with the food like a very rocky washing machine. After a few turns in the gizzard, the food is well masticated and ready for digestion.
Geese aren’t the only birds to make use of these gizzard stones. Scientists have found gastroliths–gastro meaning stomach and lith meaning stone–among the fossils of ancient birds, and even dinosaurs. In conjunction with the tomia, the gizzard stones ‘chew’ the goose’s food for them.
Can Geese Bite?
Any animal with a mouth can bite, and geese are no exception. Geese are known to be aggressive, especially when humans intrude on their territory, or threaten their nests. More than one person has felt the bite of a goose, but, thankfully, no one has ever been killed by a goose. Their serrated beaks and spiky tongues ensure that they’ll draw blood though, and they can certainly leave a nasty wound.
If you come across an angry goose, it’s important to remember not to run away. Much like a dog, geese will chase you if you run from them. Instead, you should back away slowly, moving at an angle, until you’re a safe distance away. But not all geese want to attack you–you should only be worried if the goose puffs its wings at you, or moves its head in a rapid up and down motion. If you see these things, it’s likely that the goose is getting ready to show you just how sharp its ‘not’ teeth are.
Keeping Your Goose Healthy
Geese are common farmyard animals, and some people even keep them as pets. For any keeper of geese, it’s important to provide them with an adequate, clean supply of water, as well as the appropriate foods. Giving them enough water and feeding them properly ensures that your goose won’t try to eat anything it shouldn’t. This is important as geese can actually break their bill tomia on too hard objects. And remember–the tongue spikes (tomia) can only do so much; don’t give your goose anything it might choke on.
Geese may not have teeth, but they have enough bite to make it count if they feel threatened. They might not chew, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a mouth full of armaments, ready to shred up the toughest of grasses and seeds.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Dan Olsen/Shutterstock.com
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