If you’re into freshwater fishing, chances are you’ve caught at least a few perch. These small game fish are common in streams, rivers, and lakes throughout the U.S., but how does their bite compare to other freshwater fish? Here’s everything we’ve learned about perch teeth and how they use their teeth to their advantage.
Do Perch Have Teeth?
The common perch found in North America average 7-10 inches long and weigh about a pound, with small mouths and minuscule teeth. All perch share similar teeth and are missing canine teeth like the pointed, conical ones you see in walleye or sauger. Their teeth are much smaller, with brushlike teeth across their jaws and the roof of their mouths.
Perch Teeth Function
Perch don’t need long, sharp teeth because their diet mainly consists of invertebrates, minnows, shrimp, and fish eggs. These food sources are easy enough for perch to bite and digest with their short, small teeth.
If they do eat smaller fish, they are able to digest them without large conical teeth.
Perch can catch their prey and swallow it efficiently without much struggle, as their slightly slanted teeth prevent prey from backing up and getting away.
Do Perch Have Jaws?
Perch have relatively strong jaws for their size, allowing them to feed and survive. The lower jaw slightly protrudes on these bottom feeders as they stick close to the ground, looking for small marine creatures to feast on with a slow and deliberate bite.
The bony upper jaw is fixed and doesn’t move, while the movable bottom jaw features most of the perch’s short and narrow teeth.
While hunting, perch move their bottom jaw and trap aquatic insets, zooplankton, or crayfish inside before chewing slowly and methodically. If the opportunity presents itself, some perch may even use their solid jaws and teeth to feed on younger or smaller perch.
Types of Perch With Teeth
All three perch species have teeth and enjoy similar diets and behavior patterns, although they are found in different parts of the globe.
Most American anglers are familiar with yellow perch. It’s the smallest and palest variety with the tiniest teeth out of the bunch.
Yellow perch top out at 15 inches and two pounds, but even the largest ones still have relatively small brushlike teeth compared to the conical canines on other lake species.
Found primarily in their native Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, as well as the Mississippi River basin, yellow perch use the small teeth in their jaw and the palatine teeth in the roof of their mouths to bottom feed.
Zooplankton, mosquitoes, and midges are the preferred food source for juvenile yellow perch that don’t have fully developed teeth yet. Once they are matured, yellow perch rely on their sturdy jaws and teeth to eat crayfish, fish eggs, and smaller fish.
While the U.S. has the yellow perch, Europe has its own, with a similar body including the small, barely noticeable teeth.
The European perch has a particularly bony jaw that’s flexible enough to catch, hold, and swallow prey even without huge canine teeth like larger fish in the region.
Deep lakes, slow rivers, and ponds are the preferred habitat for European perch, where they can find plenty to feed on including bottom invertebrate fauna, zooplankton, and other perch fry for the juveniles.
Grown European perch take on invertebrates and fish like roach, minnows, sticklebacks, and other perch, which they slowly chew on with a steady bite through their jaws and teeth.
Balkhash perch are similar to the European species and is found in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and China. These fish are native to the watershed system of Lake Balkhash and Lake Alakol, where they feast on smaller fish and invertebrates on the lake bottom.
Balkhash perch have many fine teeth to suit their diet of zooplankton, crayfish, and feeder fish.
Like other perch, they are recognized for their slow yet sure bite and slightly slanted teeth to help secure their prey and stop their meal from escaping. They may even use their teeth to eat some of their own species’ fish eggs or juveniles if they are feeling hungry.
Can You Lip Perch?
Perch are usually small enough to lip and their small teeth aren’t much to worry about. If there’s one part of their body to watch out for, you should be careful of their sharp gill covers.
You can handle perch like sunfish or lip them like bass and crappie. To lip a perch, quickly grab hold of their jaw while supporting the middle of the fish.
Try not to hang the perch in the air solely from their lips, as this could damage their delicate lips and mouth.
If you prefer not to lip perch, you can easily handle them with one hand placed near the head and the palm next to the dorsal fin.
Slide your hand down for a gentle yet firm grasp that folds the fin and keeps the fish steady while you remove the hook from their mouth or snap a pic of your catch.
Do Perch Bite Humans?
Like most other fish varieties, biting humans is quite rare for perch. It’s not impossible, although the good news for perch anglers or lake swimmers is that a rare perch bite won’t hurt as much as the bite of larger fish.
Perch normally shy away from swimmers, so the only real chance this fish may nibble on a finger is if you get a perch on your line.
As long as you use proper perch handling techniques with a gentle touch and avoid sticking your fingers directly in their mouths, you should be just fine. If you do lip the perch, just watch for the teeth and keep it short to stay safe and minimize stress on the fish.
Perch are popular lake fish that are most likely to bite baits such as worms or crustaceans. They opt for anything they can nibble on with their short, small teeth.
It’s very rare for perch to bite humans, instead using their brushlike teeth to help with digesting their favorite food sources like aquatic insects, zooplankton, crayfish, and smaller fish.