Do Penguins Have Teeth? Peeking Into A Penguins Beak

Akinwalere Olaleye
Feb 29, 2024 By Akinwalere Olaleye
Originally Published on Oct 30, 2021
Emperor penguins flock to Antarctica snow.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 4.8 Min

Penguins appear out of place on land because of their dark black jackets and clumsy waddling.

But when you see their grace in the water, you will see that that’s where they’re supposed to be. They're well-tailored to life in the ocean.

In fact, they can happily spend up to 75% of their lifetime in the ocean. We love the furry appearance of different species of penguins. But they do not have fur; they have feathers. The feathers are short, dense, overlapping and are black and white in most species of penguin birds. Due to the feathers, which act as insulation, they don't feel the cold so much.

Emperor penguins are said to be the largest species of penguins in the southern hemisphere.

Penguins hit, peck, and even bite. Penguins are some of the most curious animals in the world. They are birds but don't look like common Aves. The adult ones generally do not have predators. There are many questions surrounding penguins, like, do they fly? How do they eat? Do penguins have teeth?

After you have read all about different penguin species, do check out are penguins endangered and are there penguins in the North Pole?

What are those spiky things inside a penguin's mouth?

Penguins don't have teeth like any other bird. But it seems as if they have teeth. They have spines on the tongue and the roof of their mouth, which look like teeth.

These teeth-like structures on the tongue and palate are smooth keratin spikes known as papillae. They seem sharp at the top and are curved back towards the lower back part of the mouth. The penguin's mouth looks pretty weird.

The sharp ridges inside a penguin's mouth, referred to as papillae, permit penguins to grasp onto slippery fish and then directly swallow the whole fish. Penguins consume their fish completely, as a whole, and do not waste any time chewing their meals as human beings do.

How many teeth does a penguin have?

Like all other birds, penguins do not have teeth. They've got backward-facing, flesh-like spines that are present in the inner part of their mouths. These assist them in first grasping their fishy meals and then guiding them down their throat.

If you ever get up near a penguin and closely observe it and see the insides of its mouth, you will see the papillae and probably mistake those serrated ridges as teeth. However, they aren’t teeth. They are pointed inward to assist in ushering meals down the penguin's throats and keep the food from coming back out.

Why don't penguins have teeth?

Penguins are essentially meat-eaters. They mainly eat fish, squids, crabs, krill, and other seafood they seize while swimming. It is seen that penguins don’t do a whole lot of chewing so they don’t actually need teeth anyway; they generally eat their meals whole.

Instead of teeth, they have spiky papillae, which are curved and pointed towards the back of the penguin's mouth. Each of these papillae works in a similar way to a fish hook. The penguin first clutches onto a slippery fish and then ensures it moves in a single direction down the penguin’s throat!

Most wild penguins lay eggs in the form of clutches, but the emperor penguins and the king penguin lay only one egg. Like most baby chicks, the young penguins use a sharp bump on their beak, referred to as an egg tooth. They use that to create an opening in the eggshell. After they have made a hole, they create a crack around the circumference of the egg. Then they use their feet to break it open into two halves. The egg tooth is made up of calcium.

How do penguins chew food without teeth?

Penguins lack teeth. Thus they are unable to chew their food. They directly swallow meals like fish and krill. The food gets digested inside their stomach. Penguins tend to feed their young with the regurgitated food they bring back from their stomach.

The swallowed food is digested inside the stomach of the penguin. They also swallow pebbles or small stones. These different-sized stones may be small pebbles or even large stones, helping them in their digestive process. Many different species of birds also swallow stones to grind the food they consume when it is inside their stomach.

Most of the time, during swimming, they grasp fish or their prey with the help of their bill and swallow them whole. Penguins have beaks that are in the form of a hook towards the end. This allows them to bite into the fish that they seize. They have serrated, fleshy barbs on their tongue, and the top part of their mouth, which has a fish hook structure, holds the prey so that it cannot escape.

Group of Penguins diving into the ocean.

What does the inside of a penguin's mouth look like?

Penguins don't have a single tooth. Instead, they have tooth-like spines referred to as papillae on their tongue and palate, manufactured from keratin. This is identical to the protein located within the nails and hair of human beings. These keratinized bristles assist them in eating their prey.

Penguins lack taste buds. Penguins have a bill with a sharp-pointed end that helps them to seize their food, generally fish. The various excellent features of their mouths consist of the spines present on their tongues and the rooves of their mouths.

The inward formation of the fleshy barbs (the tooth-like spines of penguins) is critical to keeping fish and krill within the mouth of a penguin. The barbs trap fish and stop them from swimming out of the bird's mouth.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for do penguins have teeth, then why not take a look at can penguins fly or emperor penguin facts.

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Written by Akinwalere Olaleye

Bachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

Akinwalere Olaleye picture

Akinwalere OlaleyeBachelor of Arts specializing in English Literature

As a highly motivated, detail-oriented, and energetic individual, Olaleye's expertise lies in administrative and management operations. With extensive knowledge as an Editor and Communications Analyst, Olaleye excels in editing, writing, and media relations. Her commitment to upholding professional ethics and driving organizational growth sets her apart. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature from the University of Benin, Edo State. 

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