The black and white waddlers are not only super adorable but also unique in their structure than most animals. An example is their toothless mouth.
If you got surprised by the previous line, you should read this.
Penguins don’t have teeth. If you look inside a penguin’s mouth, you’ll see rows of small, pointy growths, and they may look like teeth, but they’re not. They’re actually papillae. Papillae are the brush-like structures on the tongue of penguins that aid in their feeding habits.
If you’re curious about how a penguin goes about life without teeth, this article is for you.
Let’s jump right in.
What’s Inside a Penguin’s Mouth?
As mentioned before, the pointy growths inside a penguin’s mouth are papillae. These are small, tooth-like projections on the tongue and palate of the penguin that help it hold onto its food. The papillae are made of keratin, the same material that makes up the beak, nails, and hair.
What do Papillae do?
1. Provide grip
Since penguins don’t have teeth to grip their prey, they use their beaks to catch and hold onto their prey, but the papillae provide additional grip onto the scales or skin of the fish and help to prevent the food from slipping out of their mouths.
By effectively holding onto the food, the papillae reduce the risk of losing their meal, resulting from a penguin’s hard work.
2. Clean beak
In addition to their role in feeding, the papillae are also used by penguins for cleaning their beaks. The penguin will often use its tongue to rub the papillae against its beak, removing any debris or leftover food.
3. Allow large preys
The papillae also increase the tongue’s surface area, allowing penguins to maximize the amount of food they can take in with each swallow.
Interestingly, the shape and number of papillae vary among different penguin species, but they are present in all penguins to some degree.
Penguins are adapted for life in the water, and the papillae are just one of the many adaptations that help them become successful hunters and feeders.
How do Penguins Chew their Food?
Of course, penguins can’t chew without teeth; they swallow everything whole. But isn’t it FISH-y how they can gobble a whole fish or squid without teeth?
As crazy as it may sound, they get help from pebbles.
What do Pebbles do for a Penguin?
Penguins swallow pebbles to aid in their digestion process. The pebbles help break down the different parts of their prey and make it easier to digest in the stomach.
Pebbles move around in a penguin’s system. This movement makes the pebbles smooth, and smaller pebbles eventually dissolve. Larger pebbles, however, travel through the penguin’s digestive system and expel in its faeces.
This practice of swallowing pebbles for digestive purposes is not unique to penguins, as other birds such as ostriches, crows and chickens also do.
Scientists have even found pebbles in the stomachs of deceased penguins!
Do young Penguins have Teeth?
If egg tooth counts, then yes.
When a baby penguin is in its egg, waiting to be hatched, it grows something called an egg tooth.
It’s one tooth grown on the baby’s beak to help it crack its egg. The tooth makes tiny holes in the egg and eventually breaks the whole egg to let the nestling out.
It falls off after a few days, so it doesn’t serve the same purpose as the tooth we’re talking about.
Why are Penguins Toothless?
1. Soft diet
Penguins don’t have teeth because their diet mainly consists of soft-bodied prey such as fish and krill, which they swallow whole.
2. Adapted to swallow whole
Penguins do not have teeth because they have adapted to feed on fish, which they catch and swallow whole. Their beaks have evolved to be strong and sharply pointed, allowing them to catch and hold onto slippery fish efficiently.
3. Prevents injury
Additionally, the shape of their beaks allows them to feel for fish in the water and avoid obstacles. Having no teeth means less weight for them to carry and less chance of injuring their mouths, making it difficult for them to eat and survive.
Does a Penguin Bite Hurt?
In case you go around putting your hands in a penguin’s mouth after knowing their lack of teeth, let us warn you:
A penguin bite can hurt badly!
They have strong beaks adapted for capturing and holding onto their prey. The beak is also used as a defence, and a bite from a penguin can cause puncture wounds or bruises.
However, the severity of the pain depends on several factors, such as the size and species of the penguin, the location of the bite, and the individual’s pain tolerance.
It’s best to avoid approaching or disturbing penguins in the wild, as this can put both the penguin and the person at risk.
Now that you’re more aware of a penguin’s internal structure, you can see that this is simply due to their evolutionary adaptation, as not having teeth is more advantageous for their survival.
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