When studying animals, from people to snakes, teeth are some of the first things that we notice. Teeth tell us a lot about the habits of an animal. Does it have sharp teeth for grabbing other animals? Flat teeth to grind and chew up plants? Or a mixture of the two, as omnivores do?
It’s hard to study goldfish and learn about their habits because it’s hard to know for sure! Unlike other fish species, goldfish don’t seem to have readily visible teeth. Or maybe their teeth are just really tiny and hard to see..? Let’s take a closer look at the question of whether goldfish have teeth or not!
Table of Contents
- Do Goldfish Have Teeth?
- What Do Goldfish Use Their Teeth For?
- Where Are Goldfish Teeth Found?
- Do Other Fish have Pharyngeal Teeth in their Throats?
- Can Goldfish Use Their Teeth to Bite?
- What Happens if a Goldfish Bites You?
- Do Goldfish Teeth Ever Fall Out?
- Wrapping Things Up
Do Goldfish Have Teeth?
You’ll be surprised to learn that yes, they do! Goldfish have teeth and use them regularly. Unlike human teeth, goldfish continuously grow new teeth over time. They aren’t like sharks, which can show multiple rows of teeth at a time. Believe it or not, goldfish lose their teeth occasionally, too, just like we do when we are growing up. The tricky part is that if you look in the mouth of a goldfish, you won’t find a single tooth!
What Do Goldfish Use Their Teeth For?
Just like human teeth, a goldfish’s teeth are designed to help it obtain food and eat. Since goldfish are generalists, they need teeth that allow them to eat a wide range of food varieties. Goldfish eat aquatic plants, worms, snails, fish eggs, small clams, algae, and anything else organic and edible that they find along the bottom of ponds and rivers.
So their teeth are equally generalist, not sharp, like predatory fish. But also not just flat like the ones used by herbivores to grind vegetables. Here is a good video showing you exactly what an old tooth shed from goldfish looks like!
Where Are Goldfish Teeth Found?
If you have been reading this article, trying to find goldfish teeth, and have been unsuccessful, don’t worry! The reason why people struggle to find goldfish teeth is that they aren’t found in a goldfish’s mouth. In fact, goldfish have specialized teeth called pharyngeal teeth.
The word “pharynx” is the clue here, which is the technical term for the area of the throat directly behind the mouth. This means that goldfish have teeth, just not in their mouths.
Unlike other fish species with throat teeth, goldfish have just a single set on the lower part of their throat. They use these teeth to grind food against a tough upper pad of tissue against the top of their throat called a chewing pad.
Tropical Fish with Throat Teeth
This is true not only of goldfish but also of other fish in the order Cypriniformes. This is a large family of fish classification that includes not just goldfish but several popular pond favorites. Koi are also cyprinids – in fact, all species of carp are.
Indoor tropical aquarium favorites like barbs, danios, rasboras, and loaches are also members of the order Cypriniformes. Among other traits, they all also have teeth in their throats and toothless mouths! When watching a Clown Loach or Tiger Barb feed, you’ll see that they chew and swallow in a very similar way to your pet goldfish!
Do Other Fish have Pharyngeal Teeth in their Throats?
Believe it or not, quite a few fish have pharyngeal teeth in their throats. Carp are the most commonly encountered, but cichlids also have teeth in their throats. In fact, they actually have two pairs of teeth! Many have sharp teeth in their front jaws, just like you would expect. However, they have a second set of pharyngeal teeth used to chew and grab their food.
Cichlid and Moray Eel Throat Teeth
Unlike goldfish, cichlids have a pair of pharyngeal jaws that include both upper and lower teeth. Depending on the species, these may be flat teeth for grinding food, as in the vegetarian tilapia, or sharp and designed for tearing prey in predatory cichlids. These grinding teeth can even be human-like teeth, shaped similarly to human molars.
You can even find some saltwater fish with throat teeth! Moral eels are the best example and one of the more interesting ones because their pharyngeal teeth aren’t for chewing. Once prey is grasped in their mouths, they extend their throat teeth to grab and hold tighter onto prey. Two sets of jaws reinforce their bite strength, and the second set pulls their food into their throat!
Can Goldfish Use Their Teeth to Bite?
You have little to worry about from a goldfish biting your finger, looking for a meal! Since their teeth aren’t in their front jaws, they can’t bite you or even other fish. Have you ever tried sticking the tip of your finger inside your fish tank or goldfish bowl? Goldfish have thick, rubbery lips that are rough but entirely toothless.
When goldfish bite, they are actually grabbing onto items using their lips. If they like the taste of what they’ve found, these thick lips pass food back to the throat. If you watch your goldfish eat, notice how they close their lips entirely while chewing. They don’t bite down; they simply start grinding food at the back of their throat until it’s broken down enough to swallow.
What Happens if a Goldfish Bites You?
Since all of their teeth are located in their throat, nothing much! Not unless you have large, fully grown adult goldfish or koi. They might be large enough to be able to swallow a finger and use their pharyngeal teeth on you! However, their teeth are flat and much more of a danger to snails and other aquatic invertebrates than you.
At worst, you’d feel a pinch. But more than likely, nothing at all. By now, you’ve likely trained your goldfish to feed entirely on prepared foods like flakes and pellets. A finger may find its way into a fish’s mouth, but only in an exploratory taste.
Goldfish can’t even bite other types of fish. Remember those thick, rubbery lips? The best they can do is pluck at the fins and sides of their tank and pond mates. Which they occasionally do, especially if a male finds a female ready and willing to spawn with. But a goldfish love bite never results in injury because all of their teeth are safely out of the way!
Do Goldfish Teeth Ever Fall Out?
Goldfish lose their teeth continuously. While they do not have multiple rows at once, like a shark or stingray, they do shed them in order to make enough space for new teeth. Over time the old teeth get worn down and need replacing. So they fall out as new teeth grow in from underneath the old set.
If you’re attentive enough, you might even find lost pharyngeal teeth or see your goldfish spit out old teeth occasionally. This is a useful evolution because it means that they aren’t left with a single set that could be permanently damaged, as we are once we reach adulthood. If a set of teeth gets too worn or damaged, a new tooth will eventually replace it.
Wrapping Things Up
Do goldfish have teeth? The surprising answer is that they do! Goldfish bite, chew and swallow just like most other animals. The difference is that a goldfish’s teeth are found in a different place from other fish. They have a single set of lower teeth located in their throat rather than an upper and lower pair in their front set of jaws.
We’ve also learned that goldfish teeth fall out over time as they wear down from being used to chew hard shells and tough aquatic plants. When that happens, these teeth are spit out and left to fall, which you may discover sitting on the gravel during aquarium maintenance.
Fortunately, you won’t need to make a call to the dentist or veterinarian! Goldfish teeth continuously grow in overtime, and a new set is already in place! So keep any old teeth that you find lying around as souvenirs of your fish’s growth and conversation starters for people unaware of a goldfish’s teeth!