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Do Axolotls Have Teeth? (Surprise!)

At first glance, many people may mistakenly believe their pet axolotls are toothless. While this could be a shock to some, they do, in fact, have teeth

They’re just not the standard ones you’d regularly expect to see, and they are even present on both the upper and lower jaws of their mouth. 

Unless you’re planning to hand feed them, you will likely never see their teeth because they’re hard to see, as their keratinized mouth plates tend to blend in with their mouths.

In the end, you shouldn’t have to worry about your pet axolotl biting you because, to many people’s surprises, it actually doesn’t hurt a bit. Keep reading to learn more about their unique tooth structure and why that is the case.

Are axolotls’ teeth sharp?

The teeth of axolotls are very tiny, somewhat rubbery, and barely protrude from the roof and floor of their jaws. 

This allows the rows of teeth to blend with the rest of their mouth, giving them the toothless appearance everyone loves.

In addition to not being very sharp and unlikely to hurt you, their teeth are blunt and lack any discernible jagged edges. 

Yet, if your axolotl is old and strong enough, there may be bite marks depending on the force they decide to put into the bite. 

You have nothing to really worry about in terms of their teeth, or getting bitten. That is because, even if they manage to bite you, it will be almost impossible for their teeth to penetrate your skin.

Therefore, you’re unlikely to receive even a tiny scratch or even experience some minor bleeding. However, the strange sandpaper-like sensation it causes when it occurs may give you a mild shock. 

What are keratinized oral plates?

What are keratinized oral plates

The teeth inside your axolotl’s mouth are keratinized oral plates, which are not actual teeth. 

Although this might not seem logical when you first think of it, these mouth plates enable them to grasp and tear apart food, therefore serving as their teeth. 

They are also renowned for playing a crucial part in keeping the gills of your axolotls free of any possible debris, a vital part of maintaining their health. 

If you look closely, you can see that the inside of your pet axolotl’s lower and upper jaw contains these oral plates. 

These oral plates lining their jaws are created and formed out of hardened protein. However, it is still unknown whether axolotls could keratinize their oral plates to produce sharper points since their teeth are generally known for lacking any form of proper sharpness. 

Though if they were to bite you, these plates would probably feel like rubbery sandpaper against your skin, but able to maintain a slight grip, much like Velcro.

What are their teeth used for?

What are their teeth used for

Axolotls’ teeth have a heterodonty structure, which is relatively uncommon in vertebrates. It consists of two parts: a sharp, narrow cusp to pierce and slice their prey, along with a broad, flattened base for crushing and grinding it. 

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They can only grab as their primary technique of catching food because of the sort of tooth arrangement that the axolotls have, limiting their options for catching prey. 

If axolotls had ordinary teeth, for example, they would pierce their meals in comparison. Instead, they must hold on tight and attempt to tear it into smaller pieces, especially if it’s larger prey.

Do they chew their food?

Axolotls don’t actually chew their food, but their unusual and unique tooth structure helps them break apart and grip their food using their strong jaws, which are known to apply a lot of force when needed.   

As a result, they can swiftly and effectively digest their meals and assimilate all the nutrients they may require without having to chew their food. 

Since they don’t generally chew any of their food when eating, an axolotl’s teeth are ultimately just effective for gripping and shredding their prey.

As a result, you should ensure that every food item you offer to your pet axolotl can be comfortably swallowed whole to prevent accidental compactions. 

How do they catch their food?

The axolotl captures its food in a unique way by quickly extending its mouth wide and sucking in the nearby food and water.

They accomplish this by sucking the water immediately in front of their jaws and dragging the prey along with them until they can quickly catch it in their teeth and prevent it from being able to escape. 

This method is quite effective because axolotls consume a variety of small creatures that may quickly flee; thus, their ability to swallow them rapidly offers them a great advantage. 

This suction technique was initially designed to help reduce the energy required to pursue their food when hunting while also being able to hunt for longer periods. However, it does have the drawback of frequently leaving your axolotl vulnerable to impaction. 

This could mean suffocating to death on something, as all it takes is either sucking up a pebble close to a piece of food or consuming a prey too big for them. 

For this reason, you should always ensure that the food given to your axolotl is adequately reduced to the correct feeding size and that there are little to no choking hazards in the tank. 

A fun tidbit about axolotls is that their scientific name, Ambystoma Mexicanum, the “Ambystoma” part of their name seriously means “cup mouth,” which can help you remember how your pet eats.

Axolotls’ teeth are always changing 

Do their teeth change

The neoteny that allows axolotls to keep their larval characteristics for the whole of their life makes it even more remarkable that their teeth are continually changing

When these teeth first form, they emerge from the inner regions of their jaw and the center of their mouth. 

As mentioned, these teeth formed are actually keratinized oral plates created from hardened proteins. The rest of the teeth fill in as the axolotl grows into their juvenile stage. 

While you can expect that some of your axolotl’s teeth may stay somewhat underdeveloped as they grow up, you will come to find out that their teeth will continue to be replaced during their lifetime as well.

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Therefore, there won’t ever be a time when an axolotl doesn’t have teeth unless due to some type of mutation or underdevelopment causing it to be otherwise.

Due to their crazy unique regeneration and aging capabilities, these creatures’ teeth are a hot topic amongst researchers and scientists. 

Today, their teeth are currently being actively studied so we can eventually understand how they can do this and the discoveries they could bring to science and medicine.

Do Axolotls bite? 

Axolotls have a slight reputation for biting, whether to warn off an intruder or even when pursuing prey. They are known to bite for certain reasons but do not generally target humans unless they have a reason to view you as some sort of threat.

Biting tankmates

Because they are known to cannibalize, especially when you put axolotls of different sizes together, it’s essential to take the necessary precautions and steps to avoid this from happening. 

An axolotl may even bite another axolotl out of territorialism or even if they’re annoyed. After all, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Biting humans

But don’t worry about if they might try to nip you; they aren’t even after you, and the most common reason axolotls may mistakenly bite their owners is when they mistake their moving fingers in the tank for a live worm.

Due to their natural inclinations, these guys will literally bite anything that moves around in their tank, but you shouldn’t be concerned because there are very few threats to your health and their bites are not harmful at all. 

After all, they don’t even have venom, their jaws aren’t strong enough to inflict any more than a minor mark on your skin, and their bites are painless and feel more like rubbery sandpaper on contact.  

The only potential concern with axolotls, like all other amphibians, is getting salmonella infection from the axolotl bites because the possibility of even bleeding from their bites is so remote, leaving salmonella as your only possible concern.

Final Thoughts 

In the end, axolotls have tiny, difficult-to-see teeth, though they are not the conventional type. Even though they usually swallow their food whole, their keratinized oral mouth plates are excellent at gripping onto prey with the aid of their powerful jaws. They also help to keep debris out of their gills.

 Researchers all around the world have been inspired to uncover more techniques to stay young or repair challenging or generally unhealable wounds through the axolotl’s unique regeneration and aging capabilities. 

 It’s always crucial to remember that even though your pet axolotl might bite you, you shouldn’t be concerned. After all, while somewhat inevitable, the bites are harmless, unthreatening, and almost always accidentally directed at their owner.  

 Though this frequently isn’t the case when they’re biting other axolotls, it is still crucial to have the proper setup when housing numerous axolotls together to prevent biting or, even worse, cannibalism.