The ocean provided absolute scenes last week at Jennette's Pier in Nags Head, North Carolina, as an angler reeled in a sheepshead fish (Archosargus probatocephalus) with a set of pearly whites to challenge even a dentist.
Sheepshead fish are famous for their teeth, uncannily similar to humans’, which they use for grinding up shells of mollusks and crustaceans. While these critters, fished for consumption, pose no threat to humans in the wild, they can employ their three rows of teeth to bite back when handled – which seems fair enough, really.
They are also known as convict fish as they look a little like they’ve donned the striped uniform of a prisoner.
Sheepshead fish don’t begin life quite this toothy. The young start out with mouths more commonly associated with fish (without dentures), which they use to scoop up soft-bodied animals like worms.
The gnarly gnashers, which give this fish its sheepshead name owing to their toothy similarity to a sheep’s muzzle, don’t settle in until the fish is more mature. As the fish gets older and larger, its teeth will grow ever more prominent, and – just to add creepiness – the front set will even develop an enamel layer, just like our teeth!
With a face that truly only a mother could love, you might not find this wondrous fish all that appetizing – but they are said to be quite delicious. The angler who reeled in the above fish was probably, therefore, delighted with their catch.
However, handling such a fish does come with a hazard warning as it has been confirmed by the folks over at Snopes that they can deliver quite the chomp if you get on their bad side. That said, they’re pretty chill if you don’t try and hoist them out of the ocean and onto a plate.
"I would not hesitate to swim in waters inhabited by these fish," said David Catania, collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences, to Snopes.
"They pose no threat to humans unless harassed. Since they are good to eat, sheepshead are targeted by anglers, so the handling of one after capture creates the possibility of being bitten or poked by their sharp dorsal fin spines."
So, as the saying I just made up goes, “If you want to live and thrive, leave that toothy weirdo in the sea.”
[H/T: Smithsonian Mag]