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Goose Tooth: Everything You Need to Know

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Geese are long-necked members of the duck family known for their loud horn calls. They are the mothers of the nursery rhymes, the harbingers of the coming winter. Many species, such as Canada geese, migrate annually, and they are perpetually monogamous. We call many waterfowl geese true geese, but only a few such as snow geese and gray geese are true geese. Geese are common throughout the world, either as overhead flying formations or as farm pets. Many people have encountered geese hissing at them and seen something with teeth in their mouth, which led to the question; do geese have teeth?

Here, we'll discuss whether geese really have teeth, and then we'll examine the strange protrusions on their tongues that help them eat. We will learn about alternative digestion and chewing methods of geese. Finally, we take a look at whether geese bite and whether you should be afraid of them. Then, we'll discuss the few most important parts of keeping a healthy farm goose.

do geese have teeth

Duck tooth goose thin slices close-up
Instead of teeth, geese have serrated edges on the inside of their beaks.

© Zoltan Major/Shutterstock.com

Geese don't chew their food and therefore don't need teeth. Instead, they have jagged edges on the inside of their beaks, called tomia. The tomia are small, evenly spaced, sharp, conical protrusions made of cartilage. In most cases, their function is to grab food. Geese eat a lot of smooth food, like aquatic plants and small fish, so it's important that they have these jagged edges. Otherwise, their food will slip from their mouths — or, the bill.

In most cases, the tomia can be seen from the open mouth of the goose. But occasionally, they can be seen from the side, in so-called "smile patches". Not all geese have grin spots, but if they do, they are usually located on the back half of the beak. The back of the upper beak slopes up to reveal the corners of the mouth, giving the appearance of a goose beak with a sly smile. They didn't smile; the tomia in the grinning zone acted as a sieve for the water while the geese foraged underwater.

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Do geese really have teeth on their tongues?

Goose teeth - goose tongue
Geese have sharp, tooth-like cartilage spikes called tomia on their tongues.

© Dan Olson/Shutterstock.com

You may have noticed another odd feature of goose beaks – the teeth on the tongue. But, don't worry; they're not real teeth. Goose tongues are not as smooth as ours, but are studded with spikes. These spikes are actually made of the same material as tomia; cartilage. They're stiff, yet semi-flexible (think your upper ear). They are also sharp and protrude from the tongue at an angle.

The "tongue teeth" of geese are not real teeth; real teeth are made of dentin, covered with enamel, and have a blood vessel and nerve-filled pulp in between. The tongue tomia has a very specific purpose; chopping up food. Because geese can't chew, they need a way to break down their food so they don't choke on it — without using any teeth. This is where bill and tongue tomia come into play. They perform some of the same functions as teeth, but are not actually teeth.

How do geese chew?

Like all birds, geese swallow their food whole. Their tongue and beak tomia do some pre-shredding of the food, but it passes into the esophagus largely unharmed. Food stays in the gizzard before entering the stomach.

You've probably seen geese eating pebbles or sand, and here's why. They ingest small rocks and sandy soil to keep in their gizzards. When geese swallow food whole, their gizzards (filled with stones and sand) do the chewing. Pebbles and food roll around in the gizzard like a rickety washing machine. After a few turns in the gizzard, the food is well chewed and ready for digestion.

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Geese aren't the only birds that make use of these gizzard stones. Scientists have found gastroliths — gastro means stomach and lith means stone — in fossils of ancient birds and even dinosaurs. Together with the tomia, gizzard stones "chew" the goose's food for them.

Do geese bite?

Any animal with a mouth will bite, and geese are no exception. Geese are known to be aggressive, especially when humans invade their territory or threaten their nests. More than one person has been bitten by geese, but thankfully, no one has been killed. Their serrated beaks and pointy tongues ensure they suck blood, and they're sure to leave nasty wounds.

If you encounter an angry goose, it's important to remember not to run away. Like dogs, geese will chase you if you run from them. Instead, you should back away slowly, moving at an angle until you are out of a safe distance. But not all geese want to attack you – the only time you should be concerned is when the geese flap their wings at you or move their head up and down quickly. If you see these things, chances are the goose is getting ready to show you just how sharp its "non" teeth are.

Keeping the Goose Healthy

White domestic goose isolated on white background
Geese can bite; their tomia can even draw blood

© Denis Nata/Shutterstock.com

Geese are common animals on farms, and some people even keep them as pets. It is important for any goose breeder to provide them with adequate, clean water as well as proper food. Giving them enough water and feeding them properly will ensure that your geese don't try to eat anything they shouldn't. This is important because geese can actually break their beaks on objects that are too hard. Remember – the tip of the tongue (tomia) can only do so much; don't give your goose anything it could choke on.

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Geese may not have teeth, but their bite is strong enough to count when they feel threatened. They may not chew, but that doesn't mean they don't have mouths full of weapons, ready to tear through the toughest grasses and seeds.

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Goose teeth - goose tongue

© Dan Olson/Shutterstock.com


about the author

Brandi Allred


Brandi is a professional writer by day and a fiction writer by night. Her nonfiction work focuses on animals, nature, and conservation. She has degrees in English and Anthropology and writes horror, science fiction and fantasy stories in her spare time.

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