Sheepshead Fish With Human-Like Teeth Plucked From North Carolina Coast

The Atlantic coast swimmer uses its molars to crush the shells of various mollusks and crustaceans

An image of a close up of a sheepshead fish. The fish has its mouth open and you can see it's human-like teeth.
The coastal critter was dubbed the sheepshead fish for the way its mouth resembles the muzzle of a sheep. Jennette's Pier via Facebook

Last week, an angler casting a line off Jennette's Pier in Nags Head, North Carolina, caught a hefty and toothy nine-pound sheepshead fish (Archosargus probatocephalus). The fish, also known as convict fish for their black and grey horizontally striped body and ability to steal bait, have large, beady black eyes and an uncanny grin that resembles a human smile. Photos of the catch shared to Facebook on August 3 prompted many comments from users astonished by the fish's set of jaws, reports Brandon Specktor for Live Science.

"I think grandpa lost his dentures, and this fish found them," one Facebook user wrote. "Bad dentist. Must look elsewhere," wrote another user, per the Washington Post's Jennifer Hassan.

The coastal critter was dubbed the sheepshead fish for the way its mouth resembles the muzzle of a sheep, the BBC reports. Because the sheepshead's diet consists of mollusks and crustaceans, their molars assist in crushing their prey's tough shells. Young sheepshead fish eat marine worms or any soft-bodied animal found within seagrasses until all their specialized teeth grow in, reported Scientific American's Becky Crew in 2013.

A full-grown sheepshead will grow up to three feet long, reports Live Science. They'll eventually grow three rows of stubby, flat teeth in their upper jaw and two rows lining their lower jaw. The fish's front teeth are even coated with enamel, like the human incisors they resemble.

Anglers can find sheepshead fish swimming near the Atlantic coast from Massachusetts to Brazil. Despite being caught for sport, they are edible. Many Facebook users, including Nathan Martin, the angler who caught the fish, commented on how tasty these fish are, the Post reports.

"It's a very good fight when you're fighting on the line, it's a really good catch, and it tastes very good," Martin told McClatchy News.

While the toothy sheepshead jaw may spook those unfamiliar with the fish, they pose no threat to humans at all. Unless bothered, the fish won't nibble on anyone.

"I would not hesitate to swim in waters inhabited by these fish," says David Catania, a collections manager at the California Academy of Sciences, to Madison Dapcevich of Snopes.com. "They pose no threat to humans unless harassed. Since they are good to eat, sheepshead are targeted by anglers, so the handling of one after capture creates the possibility of being bitten or poked by their sharp dorsal fin spines."