For some people, the thought of losing a tooth sounds like a painful experience, but for Pacific lingcod, it’s routine. In fact, this fish lost 20 teeth and grew them all back in a day, the researchers said.
With a face only a mother can love, the spirit fish, with its large head and mouth, can grow up to 5 feet long and weigh 80 pounds. Better known off the coast of Washington state, the arhat is a ferocious sea creature that feeds on animals such as squid, octopus, and crabs, all of which use its roughly 500 needle-like teeth.
“They have a lot of teeth and they know how to use them,” University of Washington doctoral student Karly Cohen told USA TODAY.
But how this fascinating fish, which can sometimes be gray, brown or green, manages to keep its sharp teeth to confront a variety of animals remains a mystery. Cohen, professor Adam Summers and Emily Carr, students at the University of South Florida, were curious enough to learn more about the teeth of this fish.
At the University of Washington’s Friday Harbor Laboratory, the team of researchers took 20 Pacific relic fish and placed them in a tank of seawater mixed with a red dye that would stick to their teeth. They are taken to a regular tank for 10 days, then they are taken to a tank mixed with green dye. That way, any new teeth will just be green and any old teeth will be mixed with green and red.
Carr then counted more than 10,000 teeth, and when all the data were collected, the team discovered that the reliquary had about 500 teeth at any given time, and they lost 3%, or about 3 percent. 20 teeth per day. Their findings are Published in The Royal Society in October.
“We thought the fish were changing teeth like this,” Cohen said. “For you and me, it’s like waking up every morning and losing a tooth.”
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The finding also offers clues as to how these animals might have eaten hard shellfish such as crabs. The team of researchers found that the most commonly replaced teeth were in the back of the mouth.
Most fish, including scorpions, have two sets of jaws. The jaws of the mouth are used to catch prey, while the jaws at the back of the mouth are used for chewing and swallowing. Seeing that the posterior teeth are being replaced more often indicates that the teeth that are under the most pressure are being replaced.
“Those teeth are playing a really risky game,” Cohen said. “For lingcods, where they’re chewing, where we expect higher stress and higher force, we see more tooth replacement.”
The team hopes the findings will lead to further research into what controls tooth replacement in fish, as larger carnivorous fish undergo the same process.
“We can start asking all these questions about the evolution of teeth and the maintenance of this mineral and what it really means to have a lot of dentures that you have to maintain,” says Cohen.
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