Some animals have sharp teeth used for defense and eating meat, whereas others have flat grinding-style teeth for eating grass and plants. But, some animals have no teeth, so in this article, I will cover 11 animals without teeth and how they survive without them.
- Turtles and Tortoises
- Frogs and Toads
- Baleen Whales
- Sea Horses
- Giant Aardvark
These are all animals that have no teeth. They survive by eluding predators, armor-like skin, and shells, and many have a gizzard that grinds up what they eat.
Below is a table that shows how they avoid predators and digest their food. After the table is a complete breakdown along with interesting facts about how these 11 animals with no teeth survive without them.
|How They Survive Without Them
|Thick armor-like scales, gizzard for grinding up what they eat
|Very strong bite. They have a hard shell they can retract their body into.
|Very fast, small, and elusive swimmers. Digest with enzymes in their stomach.
|They are very aware and will run, jump and swim away if they sense predators. They have very acidic stomachs, which kill and suffocate what they eat.
|Can fly away and are very agile. Many birds have sharp beaks. They have a gizzard for digestion.
|Few natural predators. They are very large and have strong claws. They use a gizzard to digest the insects they eat.
|Only one natural predator – killer whales. If a group of killer whales finds a baleen whale, the baleen whale won’t survive. They sieve out very small fish from the water using their fibrous teeth.
|They have claws and swipe at predators. Tamanduas use a gizzard to digest what they eat.
|They use camouflage to hide from predators. They also have good vision and can spot predators far away. They have enzymes in their stomach that break down what they eat.
|Their whole body is covered in very sharp spines. So, predators can not bite them.
A hard mouth partially grinds up insects and strong enzymes in their stomach break down what they eat.
|Very good senses to detect predators. They dig burrows that they hide in if they sense a predator. A hard mouth that partially chews what they eat. They have a gizzard that grinds up insects and digests them with acid and enzymes.
Pangolins are very unusual animals and live in tropical and central Asia. There are a few different species of pangolins. Some grow to the size of a cat, whereas others can be as big as a medium-sized dog.
NOTE: The main distinguishing characteristic of pangolins is that their body is covered in large thick segmented scales.
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They are perfectly content to walk around even in the face of predators that would quickly and easily eat them up. They tuck their head in when under attack and curl up into a ball. Their scales protect them from any predators who are unable to eat them.
Pangolin’s primary diet is ants and termites. They have unusually long and strong tongues. When they are feeding, their tongue darts in and out very fast. On average, 1 to 2 times per second.
They will search for ant or termite mounds and stick their tongue down the burrows. Then retract their tongue and swallow the ants and termites whole. Pangolins have very narrow mouths and no teeth at all. Their saliva is also very sticky and traps insects on their tongue.
While foraging for food, they eat tiny stones that roll around in their stomach and grind insects. Their digestive system has what is called a gizzard. This remarkable organ has muscle walls that squeeze and move food around. It’s also covered in spines.
FACT: Pangolins essentially have a stomach instead of a mouth with teeth in it. Rather than chewing their food first and then swallowing it, they eat it whole, and their mouth chews it.
#2: Turtles and Tortoises
As you may know, turtles live in and around water and can swim. On the other hand, tortoises only live on land and never swim. Both of these creatures have no teeth. Instead, they have a hard beak mouth that they use to break off chunks of food like vegetation and meat.
NOTE: Turtles and tortoises eat both plants and meat, but have a regular stomach that secretes acid to break down their food during digestion.
How Turtles Defend Themselves Without Teeth
Turtles can still bite to defend themselves. However, they mainly rely on retracting into their shell for protection. Most other predator animals don’t bother eating turtles or tortoises because most of them find it impossible to break their shell. In rare cases, if a predator hasn’t been able to catch what they usually eat and are starving, it will eat turtles or tortoises.
Many turtles and tortoises can retract their arms, head, and legs into their shell to protect themselves, although sometimes not all the way. Some turtles also have a long thick tail that doesn’t retract, so are helpless if something like an otter catches them.
FACT: Some animals, such as honey badgers, can still claw and pull out turtles’ arms and legs to eat them. Crocodiles also have powerful jaws and can crush the shell of turtles and eat them.
Platypus is one of the strangest animals on the planet. They have a broad and flat beak similar to a duck, and 4 webbed feet that look identical to what a duck or seagull has. Yet they have a soft and furry body like an otter. Also, when they reproduce, they lay eggs.
Platypus only lives in freshwater and eat:
- insect larvae
NOTE: Platypus, like birds, swallow what they eat whole, with a bit of minor chomping with their beak.
Platypus appears to be easy prey for anything larger than it. However, the male platypus has poisonous spurs on its hind legs. The poison is strong enough to kill small animals, but it is not deadly to humans. If you do get stung by one, the pain caused by them is very severe.
#4: Frogs & Toads
Frogs live most of their life in and around water, and alternate between swimming around underwater and hopping around on land. Toads, by contrast, live only on land. The shape of their body and their feeding habits are virtually identical.
FACT: Neither frogs nor toads have teeth. Instead, they have somewhat hard lips, similar in texture and strength to plastic. A toad and frog’s diet is insects only.
They can swallow insects whole, or they will use a long spear-like tongue to grab insects from a distance. Their primary method of catching insects is to take them by surprise and eat them before they can react and spring or fly away.
After insects are eaten by frogs and toads, they get pushed down their esophagus until they reach their acidic stomachs. Here the insects will die either by suffocating or drowning and are broken down by the acid.
The primary predators of frogs are:
- reptiles like snakes and lizards
NOTE: Many frogs and toads will secrete poison on their skin which deters predators. Otherwise, their primary defense is to not be detected by hiding. If they sense a predator, they will flee and can elude predators that get close to biting them with their powerful and confusing jump.
Virtually all birds have beaks and no teeth. There are a few exceptions, such as penguins and geese, which have very tiny teeth. Birds have various diets, from seeds to fruits and nuts, as well as fish and meat.
NOTE: The main reason birds don’t have teeth is because they swallow anything they eat whole.
Some birds will break what they swallow into smaller pieces. For example, vultures will strip away chunks of flesh. Cockatiels – a common pet bird – will chew on seeds with their beak and poke their tongue out to swallow small pieces of the seeds at once.
Other birds, like pelicans, have large and unusual beaks with a sack below, where they can scoop up a mouthful of water and a few fish. The water then runs out of this pouch until it’s empty, and they then swallow the fish whole.
FACT: The digestive enzymes and acids in a bird’s stomach are enough to break down what they eat, even whole fish.
The reason birds don’t need teeth to chew is they have what’s called a gizzard. A gizzard functions like a mouth and has muscles that massage what’s inside it to break it down. A bird’s gizzard will commonly have a semi-rough interior that breaks up food. Many birds also swallow tiny stones which grind around the gizzard, helping to break down what they eat.
Anteaters are dog-sized animals that have a very elongated snout. They are essentially a pangolin without hard armor-like scales. Instead, they have a coat of fur. Ant eater’s primary food is insects.
They have strong claws that they use to rip bark off dying and dead trees, expose the insects underneath and break off chunks of ant and termite mounds to access deeper parts. They can also break off large chunks of dead and dying trees to get more easy access to insects living inside.
NOTE: An anteater’s tongue is very long and covered in sticky saliva. It darts in and out of its mouth, picking up any insects it comes into contact with.
As their tongue retracts back into their body, they swallow the insects whole without chewing. Like most other animals that don’t have teeth, they have a gizzard stomach, which chews up the insects they eat and helps break them down, along with their saliva, and the enzymes in their gizzard.
Anteaters’ primary predators are two big cats, pumas and jaguars. Typically, if a puma or jaguar finds an anteater, they will eat it. However, anteaters are very large and use their claws to deter pumas and jaguars.
#7: Baleen Whales
Baleen whales are a group of 16 species of whales that are unique from other whales because they have no teeth. Instead, they have what is called baleen, where their teeth would be. Baleen is a material made out of keratin, which is a similar substance that fingernails and skin are made of.
NOTE: Baleen, in appearance, looks and works like a soft-bristled brush.
To feed, baleen whales take a gulp of water or scoop up water near the surface. Then they squeeze out the water through their baleen ‘teeth’, trapping tiny organisms that they feed on, such as:
- tiny fish
Baleen whales grow incredibly large. The biggest baleen whale species is the blue whale which grows to around 100 feet (30 m). The smallest baleen whale species is the pygmy right whale which grows to 20 feet (6 m) – a body that is the length of about 3 tall humans.
The main predator for baleen whales is killer whales. Killer whales hunt in packs and will eventually kill baleen whales. They continually bite them until they die from their wounds.
NOTE: Baleen whales have a fused spine and can not turn their head at all. Therefore, even if they had teeth to defend themselves, they would be unable to bite with enough speed and accuracy to defend against an attacker.
A tamandua is the size of a small dog and is native to South America. It’s similar in appearance to an ant eater and is in the same family as anteaters. But, they have very interesting markings on their body and is very good at climbing trees. They mostly eat ants and termites, which they catch using their long and sticky tongue.
Tamanduas also have a gizzard which is used to chew up the ants and termites that it eats. There are also strong acids and enzymes which break down the insects in their gizzard.
NOTE: Tamanduas are mostly active at night, and during the day, they sleep in burrows and hollow tree trunks.
A tamandua’s primary method of defense is its sharp claws. If a predator approaches, it will get into a standing position and swipe with its arms to ward off and injure an animal as it attacks it. When threatened, they sit back on their large tail and lift their arms in the air out on either side to look as big as possible.
#9: Sea Horses
Sea horses are beautiful and fascinating creatures. Interestingly, they are one of the only animals where the male gets pregnant and carries the baby sea horses. Sea horses are also quite unique because they swim upright.
Sea horses eat smaller fish and shrimp, which they grab with their long thin mouth and suck into their stomach. Sea horses swallow anything they eat whole. After it enters their digestive system it’s broken down by enzymes in their intestines.
Sea horses have many natural predators, from larger fish to stingrays and crabs. Their primary way of not getting eaten is to use camouflage and hide where they can’t be reached or discovered.
FACT: Seahorses have very good vision and are able to change their color to blend in with their environment.
Echidnas are very unusual animals. They have a short snout about the size of an adult’s pinky finger, and they are covered in spines. They have claws on their hands and eat insects.
NOTE: Some echidnas only eat ants and termites. They have long tongues and lick up insects.
They have no teeth at all but have a hard mouth which they use to grind up insects. They also have a gizzard which grinds up the insects even more. At the same time, enzymes in their stomach break down the insects.
Echidnas don’t have any natural predators because their body is covered in spins. From time to time, a predator like a dingo – an Australian wild dog – will try to eat them.
But, they will tuck themselves into a ball or lay flat on the ground, where a dingo can’t do anything to them without getting spiked by the spines on their back. They also dig burrows for their baby, which they can use to hide from predators.
One of the most interesting things about echidnas is that they lay a single egg. Together with platypus’ they are the only mammals that lay eggs. The egg is kept in a pouch in its skin until it hatches. The baby echidnas stay in their mother’s pouch until it begins to grow spines. After that, the mother echidna keeps it in a burrow to keep it safe.
#11: Giant Aardvarks
Giant aardvarks are native to Africa. They are about the size of a dog but have a long snout with nostrils that look like those of a pig. They also have very large ears. Aardvarks are nocturnal animals that only hunt at night.
Their primary diet is insects. Similar to ant eaters, they have a long sticky tongue that they use to lick up insects. Their tongue is about 5.5 inches (14 cm) long. They also have unusual front claws that are a mix between hooves and claws that they use to dig up ant hills and termite mounds.
Giant aardvarks don’t have teeth, but their mouth is somewhat firm. So, they do chew the insects a little bit when they are in their mouth. Their gizzard – a special stomach-like organ does the rest. The gizzard also has acids and enzymes which break down the insects so that an aardvark can digest them.
NOTE: Giant aardvarks have many natural predators, such as lions and cheetahs. The primary way they avoid predators is by digging a lot of burrows. Aardvarks are incredible diggers.
They will dig multiple burrows, which they keep as a backup to hide in if a predator takes them by surprise when they are out and about. An aardvark only takes a few minutes to dig a 9-foot (3-meter) hole big enough that it can crawl through.
However, typically they will hear or smell a predator before it notices them. They will then hide out in one of their burrows until it’s gone. If a lion is very hungry, it will try to dig out an aardvark. But, with a bit of luck, a lion will give up and go after other prey.
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