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Lovely set of dentures right here. Could use some brushing, though. (c) VA Institute of Marine Science (VIMS)

We’re used to seeing all kinds of wacky, dorky, crazy animals in the wild. Some are scary, some are plain, some are down right amazing. The sheepshead fish falls in the latter, boasting some incredible dentures that bear an uncanny resemblance to those of humans, incisors and molars included. The fish’s cousins are no less amazing too.

Common to North American coastal waters the sheepshead Archosargus probatocephalus can be seen around rock pilings, jetties, mangroves, reefs and piers, and can grow up to around 91 cm in length and weigh up to 9.6 kg.

Bunch of sheepshead convicts. Credit: MENTALBLOCK_DMD; FLICKR

Bunch of sheepshead convicts. Credit: MENTALBLOCK_DMD; FLICKR

It’s sometimes referred to as the “convict fish” due to its black vertical stripes over its body — a nickname which the sheepshead apparently takes very seriously since it’s often seen stealing bait.

A baby sheaphead fish showing off his still growing teeth. (c) Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

A baby sheepshead fish showing off his still growing teeth. (c) Texas Parks and Wildlife Department

The sheepshead, as you’ve most likely noticed and awed in the photos posted in this articles so far, displays sharp incisors sitting at the front of the jaw, and molars set in three rows in the upper jaw and two rows in the lower jaw.

Like humans, it makes proper use of these dentures to suit its omnivorous diet consisting of small vertebrate and invertebrate animals, as well as plants.

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Its hard and sturdy molars are used to crush the shell of its prey and actually become stronger depending on its environment. If a sheepshead fish lives in a shell-rich prey environment it will grow bigger and stronger teeth than another sheepshead fish.

“There was a significant correlation between increased force production and increased durophagous [shell-crushing] habit. Studies such as this one speak directly to the relationship between maximum functional potential and actual patterns of resource use,” notes L. P. Hernandez from the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University and P. J. Motta from the Department of Biology at the University of South Florida in a 1997 issue of the Journal of Zoology

The sheepshead is part of an entire family of wack heads, though. The Sparidae family includes species that engage in various forms of hermaphroditism, either from male to female, the reverse or unisex. The sheepshead is very confident of its sexuality, however.

Salema porgy (Sarpa salpa) — now that’s a fish! The Salema porgy, another Sparidae, has been known about for its psychedelic properties for millennia since its first attested use by aristocrats in the Roman Empire to get high. The Romans had a rather peculiar sense of partying, however, since the Salema porgy gives you one hell of a trip –  hallucinations and terrifying nightmares that can last for several days. The sheepshead fish, however, is perfectly edible and a quick google search reveals hundreds of recipes.

 

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