An angry goose is such a force to be reckoned with that in parts of the world they’re used as Guard Geese, protecting homes and farms from trespassers. From a distance, they might not seem like the typical attack animal, but get a look at their freaky geese teeth and you’d likely feel differently.
But do geese have teeth? What are these barbed tongue accessories actually made of, and what evolutionary benefit do they carry?
Do geese have teeth?
While these spiky barbs might look and even function like teeth, they do not fall under the category of teeth owing to the material they’re made of.
“As strange as this looks, geese don’t have teeth in the normal sense of the word,” said Vanessa Amaral-Rogers of the RSPB to IFLScience. “Teeth are made from enamel and these spiky-looking structures are made from cartilage – known as tomia (singular tomium).”
Geese teeth, also called conical papillae, are arranged along the tongue and can work with the bill to improve cutting. Some geese even have the barbs at the back of the tongue to prevent food they’re trying to ingest from being regurgitated, a purpose which explains why the throats of turtles are such a hellscape, too.
While not carrying the enamel of true teeth, the tomia pack a punch of their own.
“The serrated protrusions are part of the beak and tongue but act in the same way that regular teeth do,” said Amaral-Rogers, “they are also very sharp!”
What is the purpose of "geese teeth"?
The tomia that line the tongue and beak might not be true teeth, but their purpose is near enough the same.
“Geese eat all kinds of tough food,” continued Amaral-Rogers. “Having tomia on their beak and tongue helps them to rip and pull roots, stems, grasses and aquatic plants from the ground. The ‘teeth’ on their tongue also help clamp down on small mammals and insects.”
Are “geese teeth” seen in other species?
An impressive set of faux gnashers, then, but are other birds packing such savagery in their bills?
“These types of barbs are certainly seen in other species of birds,” said Amaral-Rogers. “For many, the tongue morphology has developed as a result of convergent evolution and is linked to the feeding habits of the species. Ducks, geese and swans (Anatidae) all have a similar type of tomia which helps with holding and ripping vegetation.”
“However, the tomia differs in others. For example, some of the fish-eating birds have spines covering the whole of their tongue – all the better for catching and holding in place wriggling fish. For some other amazing bird tongues, take a look at penguins and lorikeets – puts that goose tongue into perspective!”
So, there you have it kids. Geese don’t have teeth, but they could probably still mess you up.
All “explainer” articles are confirmed by fact checkers to be correct at time of publishing. Text, images, and links may be edited, removed, or added to at a later date to keep information current.
An earlier version of this article was published in February 2022.