People often ask, “are there any animals with no teeth?”, and you’d be surprised to learn just how many toothless species there are in the world.
There are quite a few animals that don’t need to chew on their food to digest it and they’ve lost their teeth with time.
Today, we’ll be counting down all the animals that have no teeth and learning how they process their food.
- Giant Anteaters
- (Most) Frogs
- Baleen Whales
- (Most) Insects
- Honorable mention: Snakes
1. Giant Anteaters
Scientific name: Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Giant anteaters are such weird animals in many ways – they have no teeth and their head is elongated with a very long nose. The reason these animals have no teeth is that they don’t need them.
These animals mainly feed on ants and termites, which don’t need chewing. They slip their insanely-long tongue into an insect mound and just scoop them all up before swallowing them.
On top of having no teeth, giant anteaters have very weak jaws with very limited movement – they can only close and open their mouths. To chew, they crush insects against their palate.
Scientific name (order): Pholidota
These animals that don’t have teeth are related to anteaters, but they found alternative methods to chew. Pangolins don’t press insects against their palate to crush them, but they rather use stones!
A pangolin will swallow several stones that they keep in their stomach to grind up food. So, not only do they lack teeth – they chew food in their stomachs, not in their mouths.
They only use their mouths for foraging food, as they also stick their tongue out and pull insects in.
Scientific name (class): Aves
Even though birds used to have teeth (or at least something resembling teeth) a few million years ago, birds with no teeth are the only kind of birds we see today.
This is why they have unique digestive systems, as they have to compensate for being unable to chew.
Similar to pangolins, birds often swallow stones to grind food, and their digestion is very quick, allowing them to return to flying very quickly. Birds that feed on nectar, such as hummingbirds, have specialized tongues designed to draw nectar from flowers.
Scientific name (order): Testudines
Turtles are the only reptiles with no teeth, as they have strong keratin beaks (once again proving the connection between reptiles and birds). They use those beaks to bite and process their food.
Different turtles have different diets – some feed on insects, while other turtles feed on fish, fruit, and other vegetation. However, most turtle species are considered to be opportunistic omnivores – they’ll eat whatever they can given the opportunity.
They eat vegetation more than other animals because hunting is difficult for them since they’re so slow and immobile.
5. (Most) Frogs
Scientific name (order): Anura
Frogs are animals with no lower teeth, and the teeth on their upper jaw aren’t that useful. Unlike most animals, they don’t use their teeth for chewing, but just for holding food before they swallow it.
Toads (family Bufonidae) don’t have any teeth and they’re the only frogs with no teeth on either jaw, while there is also a species of frog called Guenther’s marsupial frog that has two sets of teeth – it is the only frog with true teeth on both jaws!
Scientific name (order): Araneae
We learned that anteaters don’t have any teeth because they eat insects, but what do animals without teeth eat if they’re already small, like spiders? Spiders also eat insects, and they definitely couldn’t just crush them like larger animals given their size.
What they do, however, is catch their prey, inject it with venom, and let its body turn to mush. Since spiders have no teeth, they can’t chew or dismember another insect, but they can just drink the remains up.
Scientific name (order): Scorpiones
Scorpions are animals with no chewing teeth, instead, they have chelicerae, which are small pincers that can help dismember food. After killing their prey, be it with a venomous sting or with their claws, scorpions use the chelicerae to rip it apart.
They pull off small chunks of food into their mouth, after which they spit (or even throw up) digestive juices all over it, and they suck that food back into their mouth once it’s been liquified.
Although their digestive process is similar to spiders, it’s much more complicated.
Scientific name (order): Octopoda
If you’re ever at a pub quiz and you hear the question ‘which animals have a beak with jaws but no teeth?’ – the answer is octopuses. Octopuses have a tiny beak surrounded by jaws that they use to rip prey into pieces.
They also have a tongue-like organ with microscopic teeth, making them one of the very few animals with teeth on tongue, but those teeth aren’t used in a traditional sense.
There are also species swallowing their prey whole, without processing it in any way before.
9. Baleen Whales
Scientific name (parvorder): Mysticeti
These sea animals with no teeth have baleen plates that help them feed, hence the name. These plates are made from a hard keratin material, and there’s very little space in between them, so the whales use them as a sieve when eating.
They usually eat very small fish, krill, and planktons, which they get by opening their mouths and letting incredible amounts of water in. The baleen plates keep the prey, while the excess water is shot out.
10. (Most) Insects
Scientific name (class): Insecta
The largest majority of insects are animals that don’t have teeth, with a few species having mandibles that they use for cutting vegetation. We can find mandibles in grasshoppers, bull ants, crickets, and beetles.
Aside from them, insects don’t have teeth as they don’t need them for feeding. Mosquitos, famously, suck blood and nectar, while many species also feed on fruit and flower nectar, for which they don’t need teeth.
Honorable Mention: Snakes
Scientific name (suborder): Serpentes
Snakes definitely have teeth, but snake teeth aren’t used in the traditional way. Crocodiles and lizards mostly have teeth for chewing food, but snakes don’t – they’re animals that swallow their food whole.
The only purpose of their teeth (aside from venomous snakes’ fangs) is to hold the prey down and push it into the mouth. Their teeth are completely useless when it comes to chewing.
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