Have you ever wondered if carp have teeth? These freshwater fish have unique mouths and teeth that give them an advantage in lakes and streams across the U.S.
Let’s take a closer look at carp teeth and how they work.
Do Carp Have Teeth?
Carp are considered an invasive fish species across the U.S., and they are known for their strong mouths and feeding frenzies that outdo native species.
There are many different types of carp out there, but one thing all these oily freshwater fish have in common is their teeth.
At first glance, you may think carp have no teeth at all because there’s none near their lips or the front of their mouths. In reality, carp rely solely on the pharyngeal teeth in the throat.
Carps teeth are found far in the back of the throat, attached to the gill arches.
They may not have as many teeth as other fish, but powerful pharyngeal teeth get the job done and give carp the upper edge in most marine environments.
Carp Teeth Function
Carp pharyngeal teeth help them grind and crush food into tiny particles for digestion. These teeth allow carp to crush and chew their food at the same time, ensuring smaller fish can’t escape from their grasp.
Because carps appear to be all lips with no teeth, sometimes they are mistaken for herbivores. Rest assured carp are omnivores that feed on other animals as well as aquatic plants.
They just use their powerful teeth in the back of their throat to shock and subdue prey.
Carp are bottom feeders and they aren’t very picky, so they will consume just about anything they can find on the lake floor or river bed.
Worms, insects, crustaceans, shrimp, snails, and mollusks are some of the top carp food resources, but they also feed on fish eggs and smaller species.
The pharyngeal teeth are used to eat everything the carp can find to feast on/
Do Carp Have Jaws?
Carp do have jaws that support their noticeable lips and mouths, although you don’t see any teeth near or around this area.
Their strong jawbones help with efficient eating so they can get the most meat out of their aquatic meal.
Carp rotate their jawbones to generate a grinding movement that cuts through harder food sources like mussels or crayfish.
This jaw motion allows them to get inside the hard shell for the best meat.
While the carp jaws rotate and grind, the pharyngeal teeth are pushed upwards to crush and grind the rest of the prey within the hard, bony top of the throat.
This rigid jaw and teeth combo makes it easier for carp to swallow and digest food. Larger pieces are ground into a smaller size for swallowing while carp also spit out hard shells and anything else they don’t want to swallow.
Types of Carp With Teeth
All carps have pharyngeal teeth, although the size and shape may vary slightly based on their preferred diet. Carp teeth are located near the gill filaments and gill rakers in all types of carp.
These are a few of the most common kinds of carp and how their pharyngeal teeth work:
- Silver carp – these 75-100 pound carp have pharyngeal teeth with grooved surfaces for eating plankton, worms, and smaller juvenile fish. The teeth are surrounding by gill rakers that are thinly fused together to filter plankton and aquatic insects.
- Black carp – these carp can reach 5 feet in length and 150 pounds, so they need strong fish. The pharyngeal teeth look like human molars and are strong enough to routinely crush snail and mollusk shells.
- Grass carp – as another carp that tops 5 feet and nearly 150 pounds, grass carp have long serrated teeth. Their pharyngeal teeth are specialized for consuming aquatic vegetation.
Can You Lip Carp?
It’s not a very good idea to lip carp. While it may be tempting especially because they don’t have obvious canine teeth at the front of their mouth, lipping carp could hurt the fish and isn’t very comfortable for your either.
Save the lip grip for largemouth bass or trout and follow these few key steps for safely holding carp while respecting their mouth, jaw, and teeth.
- Kneel down and slide one hand near the head from the mouth to the gills. Watch out for the eyes.
- Hold the front pectoral fin on the upper side of the fish.
- Slide the hand closer to the tail underneath with a round grasp to the side of the anal fin. Be careful not to move the carp scales.
- Keep a firm grasp and tilt the carp slightly away from you by turning your wrists.
- Squat while maintaining a stable hold on the carp. Always hold carp around the top and bottom of the body and not the lips or mouth.
With no teeth in the top of the mouth, a lot of successful carp catches are hooked near the lips.
Just be careful to remove these hooks slowly and steadily without damaging the lips or jaw, which could interfere with the overall pharyngeal teeth function and their digestive process.
Do Carp Bite Humans?
As long as you don’t stick your fingers or entire hand down a carp’s throat, you don’t have much to worry about.
While their teeth are plenty sharp and strong to grind up food, carp teeth just aren’t strong enough to hurt people. Carp are too small to bite humans and their pharyngeal teeth are too dull to damage human skin.
Even though it’s highly unlikely for carp to bite humans, these fish can cause issues and even injuries for boaters if they leap out of the water.
Some invasive flying carp like the leaping silver carp have been linked to serious injuries like broken jaws, ribs, legs, and arms.
Just be aware of your surroundings and be extra cautious if you are in an area with a lot of jumping carp. While their teeth may not do much damage, their large bodies jumping in and out of the water just might.
Carp are an invasive species taking over many lakes and rivers in the U.S. While some people are afraid of this fish due to the stories of leaping carp in rivers and lakes, that’s really all you have to worry about.
That’s because carp don’t bite people, only bait.
Unlike other freshwater fish with noticeably sharp canine teeth, you can see in their mouth, carp only have pharyngeal teeth in their throat.
The combination of a strong jaw and pharyngeal teeth allows carp to thoroughly grind up clams, mussels, crayfish, and other food.
Their teeth are too far back in the throat to do any damage to humans..