Do birds have teeth? Ask any biologist and the answer will be “absolutely not!”, but “absolute” is a relative term and when one stretches the definitions of what makes a bird or a tooth, birds with teeth aren’t absolutely impossible anymore.
Greylag Goose Grazes Grasses
The Greylag Goose is very common in Europe and western Asia though most people haven’t seen one up close. If they did, they might back away, and quickly. This is no “silly goose”, at least not if those rows of teeth along its upper and lower jaws mean anything. It’s close relative, the Canada Goose, shares the Greylag’s disconcertingly un-birdlike choppers. If you thought a goose’s bark was worse than its bite, maybe it’s time to reconsider.
Tooth-like serrations called Tomia run along the outside edges of the Greylag’s beak, top and bottom, and help it neatly clip the shoots and grasses that make up the major portion of its meals.
Domestic Goose’s Devilish Grin
Domestic Geese may be white but they’ve sure got a bite; being closely related to the Greylag Goose they share their progenitor’s toothless – but tooth-like – dentition. Just imagine the glint off these pearly… yellows?… when a gaggle of domestic geese swagger into the barnyard. You talkin’ to me??
(image via: Indiana Public Media)
Making like a snake isn’t going to improve the above goose’s popularity much… guess he’ll have to just grin and bear it. Looks like he’s doing exactly that.
Not Your Average Baby Teeth
Awww, cute cuddly baby birds! Hear them go “cheep cheep cheep”. Gently touch their warm, soft, downy feathers. Watch them open their tiny mouths wide and… Oh. My. Gawd!! No need to adjust your screen, there’s nothing wrong with this picture… well, not visually but certainly viscerally. Many species of birds have, to a greater or lesser degree, spiky tooth-like rearward-facing spines in their mouths that ensure what goes in won’t get out. Take another look at the above images – I ensure they’ll be in your dreams tonight.
Penguins Use Tongue Fu
Penguins are chock full of amazing evolutionary adaptations that enable them to perform as efficient fish-catching, meal-processing machines that turn speed-eating into a lifestyle. You’d think that snatching fish in mid-swim would be a challenge without a mouthful of teeth to do the snatching with, but penguins have a trick up their natty sleeves… or in their mouths, to be exact.
The Adelie penguin above is showing off its spine-covered tongue (left) and similarly bristly upper palate (right). The spines function much as teeth would, holding captured fish securely as the penguin prepares to swallow it. The spines are raked backwards just in case any red herrings decide they want to make a break for it. Oh, and if you’re wondering how penguins kiss, the answer is… very carefully.
(image via: Liography)
“It’s hard to soar with eagles when you’re surrounded by turkeys…” Or Toucans, for that matter. It’s hard to take toucans seriously – between their ridiculously enlarged beaks and an unfortunate association with Froot Loops breakfast cereal its a wonder they haven’t been laughed out of the rainforest by now. Then there’s this guy, who stands his ground with a hint of a grin… a sinister smile that appears to reveal a brace of bodacious bird bicuspids! We’re unsure whether flashing faux dentition works to intimidate predators but one thing’s for certain: when Toucan Sam channels Yosemite Sam, any fur-bearin’ varmints in the area had best take notice!
Take A Seat, Tooth-billed Catbird
(image via: Oiseaux.net)
The Tooth-billed Catbird is a type of Bowerbird found in the forests of Queensland in northeastern Australia. There are several different species of catbirds but only the Tooth-billed Catbird has a tooth-like bill… and a seriously badass name to go with it.
The tooth-like appearance of the Tooth-billed Catbird’s bill really puts it in the catbird seat… wait a minute, what the heck is a “catbird seat”?? Derived from a folk expression originating in the American South, to be in the catbird seat means being in an enviable or advantageous position. Depending upon who you want to believe, the expression was popularized either by humorist James Thurber in his 1942 short story “The Catbird Seat”, or by the legendary late baseball broadcaster Red Barber who often used it when describing situations in which the batter had run the count to 3 balls and no strikes. The more you know!
Breakout The Egg Teeth
When the going gets tough, the tough get… an egg tooth? Yes indeed, birds have evolved egg teeth (an Egg Tooth, actually) on the end of the beak to assist about-to-be-born baby birds in breaking through their eggshells from the inside. Once they’re out, however, the egg tooth either quickly falls off or is reabsorbed. Though known as an egg “tooth”, the actual structure is more like that of a horn or a bone spur.
All birds (except Kiwis) are born with egg teeth and the protuberance is also common to other egg-laying animals including snakes, crocodiles, turtles, certain types of frogs and -wait for it – spiders!
Prehistoric Toothed Birds
Birds had teeth through much of their history, from the very ancient Archaeopteryx up to the relatively recent Pelagornithidae. These pseudotooth birds, looked a lot like modern seabirds with two major differences: most species were much larger and all had jagged, bony protrusions of their upper and lower jawbones that gave them a decidedly sinister appearance. It’s thought that these tooth-like projections helped the birds grasp slippery fish and squid, but that begs the question: if today’s seabirds also eat these foods, why lose these useful pseudoteeth?
The last toothed birds died out early in the Pleistocene Epoch around 2.5 million years ago, possibly their specialized lifestyles rendered them vulnerable to severe environmental changes resulting from changing ocean currents and the advent of recurring ice ages. Their huge size may have also contributed to their demise, as some of these toothed birds really pushed the envelope when it came to practical limitations of the size vs flight equation. The extinct toothed bird Pelagornis Chilensis above, for example, had an estimated wingspan of 5.2 meters (17 feet) while the wingspans of other toothed seabirds approached 9 meters (30 feet)!
Fighting, Biting Warbirds
Though the term “warbird” can denote most any retired military aircraft, what comes to mind to most folks are the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighters flown with great distinction by the Flying Tigers in World War II. Now these birds had teeth… and were more than happy to use them.
As iconic as the sharkmouth P-40 may be, the actual history of the motif isn’t what most would expect. The first fighter pilots to paint their P-40s in this fashion were not Americans, but British – from RAF 112 Squadron, flying Curtiss P-40 Kittyhawks against Rommel’s Afrika Corps out of Egyptian bases in the summer of 1941. That isn’t the end of the story, either. The pilots from 112 Squadron got their inspiration from seeing Messerschmitt Bf-110 fighter-bombers from the Luftwaffe’s Zerstorergeschwader 76 “Haifisch” (shark) Group, formed in the spring of 1940.
Cartoon Birds & Mouthy Mascots
(image via: Sodahead)
Daffy Duck, Woody Woodpecker, Heckle & Jeckle and more… these classic cartoon character birds were embodied by their creators with a wide variety of exaggerated expressions including some very expressive, toothy grins.
No one (until now, at least) really questioned why these animated avians had teeth, let alone now you see ‘em, now you don’t choppers – and there’s a very good reason: pointing it out to someone like Duckman might just get you a “What the HELL you starin’ at?!!” in return.
From pro sports to beer leagues to school teams, birds have always been popular mascots but the recent trend is to make them look as fierce as possible. Even historic mascots and logos have gotten buff: check out the helmet logos of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals, for example.
Sometimes though, a frown just ain’t enough; baring teeth bestows a much greater degree of ferocity on even the most timid of songbirds. The logos above all feature toothy birds who add some bite to their beaks… just beak cause, that’s why.
(image via: Morriscourse)
Can’t handle the tooth? Saying fangs with faint praise? Think canines belong on canines and ONLY canines? Fair enough, but just remember: birds with teeth really aren’t impossible, just implausible. Or, just maybe… inci-dental.