The fish of nightmares

This is not a Photoshop job. This is the very real toothy smile of sheepshead fish. It lives in North America, writes Becky Crew at the Running Ponies blog. And, like humans, it has both incisors and molars — perfect for masticating an omnivorous diet. Apparently, they also taste good, which should be some consolation. Worse comes to worse, we can always eat them.


  1. Eat them? I can’t quite tell if those ghastly nodules look more like some horrible ossified malignancy, or like some dreadful dermal infection with lots of pustules…

  2. Some people pass on eating things with eyes.

    Some people pass on eating things with human teeth. 

  3. Sheepshead are delicious and relatively easy to clean- those teeth are pretty unnerving at first though.

  4. This sheepshead fish makes me want to brush with an extra tartar control whitening toothpaste that hopefully prevents extra rows of molars. 

  5. At least they’re tasty and don’t give you terrifying hallucinations like the Salema  Porgy mentioned in the article. Yeesh! Screaming animals and giant spiders along with your fish dinner? No thanks!

  6. Well, I read the whole article, and I’m still not sure — are they teeth-teeth, like a mammal’s teeth, with the same kind of enamel, dentin, pulp, nerves, etc., or are they just remarkably similar looking parallel-evolution structures?

    1. Another possibility is that they’re a structure that predates teeth, and that has survived in fish. Pharyngeal (throat) teeth in fish may have evolved before jaws.

      I don’t know if any of the teeth in the picture are pharyngeal teeth (which are apparently made from enameloid, like fish scales, rather than enamel, like ‘proper’ teeth), but a friend of mine dug up a set of pharyngeal teeth once that looked much like the rear ‘bed’ of teeth. It was a triangle of bone studded with tiny white domes, and it took him years to find out what it was.

      1. Thanks for the reply. It’s stuff like this that makes me think that if life arises on planets similar to Earth, it might at least have structural and functional similarities to life here.

  7. I caught a sheepshead fish once while on a deep sea fishing trip. As it came out of the water, I was horrified when a deckhand suddenly gaffed the fish, then used a pair of pliers to break off the long “dog teeth” so he could pull out the hook without getting bitten, and then dumped it in a burlap bag on deck so it could slowly suffocate to death. I was a kid at the time and was not expecting that level of violence. I have never gone fishing since.

  8. I recall sheepshead from my childhood.  But my dad always did the cleaning and I never saw the teeth.  That would have been some serious nightmare fuel.

  9. If I recall correctly (it was a long time ago), a sheepshead was the first fish I ever caught that was worthy of cleaning and cooking. My dad gutted it and fileted it. It wasn’t an especially big one and rendered a few morsels that tasted great when fried. I suspect he would have thrown it back if he had caught it.

    The great thing about them is that they can be caught close to shore, so a kid with a cheap rod and reel can catch one off a bulkhead using old, dead shrimp for bait.

  10. Those teeth _have_ to trigger the weird pod-phobia thingie the Internet was talking about a few weeks back. The one about lotus seeds and baby toads hatching out of the parent’s back.

  11. Sheepshead need those teeth because they eat a lot of things like crab, barnacles, shrimp, etc.  (hard things).  

    I catch them all the time.  They can be eaten, but they can also snap a hook with their teeth.

    These are exceedingly common fish. You will find them all along the atlantic(if memory serves)   Maybe next someone could post how they have these fish that look like cats, call them catfish.

    If you want to catch one to look at them, and you live near the ocean, just go throw a dead shrimp near some rocks, pier, etc.  Make sure it is relatively deep(over 10 ft).  You will catch one.  They can get rather large, I have caught them weighing 24+ inches long.  Don’t worry about hurting them.  Considering that their mouth has evolved to eat calcium shells, an occasional hook poking it isn’t going to matter much.

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