Fish with human teeth - sheepshead fish
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Fish with human teeth - sheepshead fish

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Depending on the habitat, sheephead fish can be named :

The California sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher)
The sheephead can reach a size of 91 cm and a weight of 16 kg. The male is black with a white jaw and a broad red band spanning the body sometimes. The female is pink. The juvenile form is bright red with a white stripe spanning the body and a black spot on its tail. All sheepheads are born as females and eventually change to males at roughly 45 centimeters.

Sheephead porgy (Calamus penna) is a species of fish of the porgy family, Sparidae, only found in the Atlantic Ocean.

Sheepshead, Archosargus probatocephalus grow to approximately 91 cm (35.8 inches) total length (TL) and 9.6 kg (21.2 pounds), though Hildebrand and Schroeder (1927) reported the largest sheepshead recorded weighed 66 kg (145.5 pounds). In most areas, however, sheepshead never achieve this large a size. 



Maximum lifespan has been estimated at 20 years in Louisiana (Beckman et al. 1991); however most estimates from other regions are lower, ranging from 8 years in North Carolina (Schwartz 1990) to 14 years in Georgia (Music and Pafford 1984).
In a Florida study of sheepshead collected from inshore waters, the maximum age for males was estimated to be 13 years, while in females, maximum age was 16 years (MacDonald unpubl. in Murphy 2000).
 It is deep and compressed in body shape, with 5 to 6 dark bars on the side of the body over a gray background.
Looking into the mouth of a sheepshead is a bit like looking into the mouth of a person. This fish has human-like incisors and strange looking molar teeth on the roof and bottom of its mouth. Sheepshead use these heavy-duty teeth to grind up blue crabs, oysters, and small fish.


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Sheepshead move close to shore during the late winter and early spring to spawn. Fishermen usually catch them with fiddler crabs or shrimp near docks and bridges. Also known as “convict fish” because of their black and silver striped appearance and their tendency to steal bait off your hook, sheepshead are difficult to catch but delicious to eat.


Catching sheepshead doesn’t take much finesse. Simply drop a bait next to a barnacle-encrusted piling and wait for the bite. Despite their powerful jaws and impressive dental equipment, sheepshead gingerly nibble rather than gulp prey like a redfish.
Notorious bait stealers, sheepshead almost timidly examine morsels before deciding to taste them. Often, anglers don’t even detect subtle strikes. Sometimes, the line simply feels heavy or mushy. A sheepshead can quickly strip bait from a hook, but fortunately, seldom move very far from food.

When they’re young, sheepshead fish will eat marine worms, bryozoan ‘moss animals’ and pretty much anything soft-bodied they can catch in the seagrasses.
Although thick, sharp teeth begin to appear when a sheepshead is just 4.5 mm long, it will have to wait until it’s about 15 mm long before all the incisors have come in and the back teeth begin to develop into adult molars.
Once they reach around 50 mm in length, the sheepshead will advance to eating more robust, armoured prey such as echinoderms, barnacles, clams, crabs and oysters, using their highly specialised teeth.



During this stage, its jaw musculature is also developing, and this keeps improving right through to old age. So an old fish living around a good supply of hard-shelled prey will end up having much greater jaw crushing power than a younger fish in a less rich environment.
“Evidence strongly suggested that oral jaw crushing force was an important determinant of diet in these fishes,” said 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.
Hernandez and Motta had been observing the oral crushing performance of sheepshead fish from birth through to adulthood. “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.”
It’s not clear why the sheepshead is called the sheepshead, but it’s been suggested that it refers to how its teeth look like sheep’s teeth


sheepshead are a species that change habitat depending on the season, have some unique behaviors.


The California sheephead (Semicossyphus pulcher)  Its range is from Monterey Bay, California to the Gulf of California, Mexico, but easily can enter into freshwater river causing "natural disaster" among local fish population.
Archosargus probatocephalus is common on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States. Its range extends from Cape Cod, Massachusetts south through Florida and the Gulf of Mexico to Brazil. Wanderers are occasionally observed as far north as Nova Scotia. It is absent from Bermuda, the West Indies and the Bahamas (Jennings 1985).


Interesting Facts

Sheepshead resemble black drum with alternating black and white bars, but possess human-like teeth hidden behind lips. They use these teeth for crunching barnacles, crab shells and shrimp.
A fully-grown adult sheepshead will have well-defined 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. It has strong, heavy grinders set in the rear of the jaw too, which are particularly important for crushing the shells of its prey. 

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As with humans, this unique combination of teeth helps the sheepshead process a wide-ranging, omnivorous diet consisting of a variety of vertebrates, invertebrates and some plant material.
Archosargus probatocephalus have been collected from waters ranging in temperature from 5 - 35.1°C (41 - 95.2 °F)(Perret 1971; Johnson 1978). Tampa Bay Juveniles have been collected at temperatures ranging from 12.8 - 32.5 8°C (55.0 - 90.5 °F)(Springer and Woodburn 1960).
Sheepshead are a euryhaline species and have been collected from waters in where salinity ranged from 0 - 35 parts per thousand (ppt) (Springer and Woodburn 1960; Kelly 1965; Perret 1971; Perret and Caillouet 1974).






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