For some people, the thought of losing a tooth sounds like a painful experience, but for the Pacific lingcod, it’s an everyday thing. In fact, this fish loses 20 teeth and grows them all back in one day, researchers say.
With a face only a mother could love, the lingcod, with its large head and mouth, can grow up to 5 feet and weigh 80 pounds. More known off the coast of Washington state, the lingcod is an aggressive sea creature, feeding on animals such as squid, octopus and crabs, all while using its roughly 500 needle-like teeth.
“They’ve got tons of teeth, and they know how to use them,” University of Washington doctoral student Karly Cohen told USA TODAY.
But how this fascinating fish, which can sometimes appear gray, brown or green, is able to keep its sharp teeth to take on a variety of animals has remained a mystery. Cohen, professor Adam Summers and University of South Florida undergraduate Emily Carr were curious enough to find out more about the fish’s teeth.
At the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratories, the team of researchers got 20 Pacific lingcod and placed them in a seawater tank mixed with red dye that would stick to their teeth. They were taken to their regular tank for 10 days, after which they were taken to a tank mixed with green dye. That way, any new teeth would just be green and any old teeth would be mixed with green and red.
Carr then counted over 10,000 teeth, and when all the data was collected, the team found that the lingcod had around 500 teeth at any given time, and they lost 3%, or 20 teeth, per day. Their findings were published in The Royal Society in October.
“It blew our minds that fish were replacing their teeth this quickly,” Cohen said. “For you and I, that looks like waking up every morning and losing a single tooth.”
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The findings also gave clues as to how these animals are able to eat hard-shelled animals like crabs. The team of researchers found that the teeth most often being replaced were in the back of the mouth.
Most fish, including the lingcod, have two sets of jaws. Oral jaws are used to capture prey, while pharyngeal jaws located in the back of the mouth are used to chew and swallow. Seeing that the back teeth were more often being changed showed that teeth with the most stress were being replaced.
“Those teeth are playing a really risky game,” Cohen said. “For the lingcod, where they’re chewing, where we expect there to be higher stress and higher force, we see a lot more tooth replacement.”
The team hopes these findings will lead to further research into what controls fish tooth replacement, as well as if bigger, carnivorous fish go through the same process.
“We can start to ask all these questions about the evolution of teeth and the maintenance of this kind of mineral and what it actually means to have multiple dentitions that you have to maintain,” Cohen said.
Follow Jordan Mendoza on Twitter: @jordan_mendoza5.