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What Is an Egg Tooth?

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  • Written By: Christina Edwards
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 07 November 2016
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An egg tooth is a hard, often sharp protuberance that is found on the snout of many babies that hatch from eggs. These help the babies escape from the egg when it's time, but they are not real teeth. Unlike real teeth, egg teeth will usually disappear a short time after birth. Bird and reptiles are two types of baby animals that have egg teeth when born.

Most egg-laying animals develop these type of teeth when they are in the egg. An egg tooth can usually be found on the nose or beak of an animal. Although it is tooth-like and quite hard, it is not a real tooth. Instead of being made from bone, an egg tooth is usually made from a hardened nub of skin.

As the baby grows, it becomes much harder for the animal get needed oxygen. After weeks or months in an egg, a hatchling must be able to get out quickly. It can be very difficult to do this, since many eggs have a hard or tough exterior. The egg tooth is then used as a tool to help break through this shell.

Birds develop an egg tooth while inside an egg. Along with this tooth, a baby bird also has a special muscle located in the back of its neck. This is often referred to as a pipping muscle.

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When the hatchling has grown bigger and begins to have trouble getting oxygen, it will begin to use these special anatomical parts to break out of its shell. First, it will use its egg tooth, located on the end of its beak, to put a hole in the air sac on the inside of the egg. This will give the hatchling more oxygen, so it can begin to peck its way through the hard exterior of the shell. The egg tooth will then usually fall off within a few months.

Reptiles will also usually develop these teeth while inside their eggs. A reptile egg tooth will usually be on the animal's snout. Snakes, for example, use these teeth to cut through their leathery shells. After a snake's first shedding, the tooth will disappear.

A crocodile also develops an egg tooth before emerging from an egg. Crocodile eggs are different than most reptile eggs, since they are not leathery. Instead they have a hard exterior, like a bird's egg. A few months after a crocodile hatches, this hard piece of skin disappears.

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SteamLouis
Post 3

@burcidi-- No, it doesn't look like a tooth at all. I've seen it many times on the chicks on our farm. It's a short stubble like thing and it's not very sharp but it works for them.

We've had several chicks die in the egg before the eggs hatched. What I noticed on all of them is that the egg tooth wasn't well developed. That's probably why they died. They couldn't crack through the shell and were left without oxygen.

burcidi
Post 2

I understand that the egg tooth for hatching is not a real tooth. But does it look like one otherwise? From the description, I'm imagining a sharp, long structure.

literally45
Post 1

The first time I heard that sea turtles are born with egg teeth, I was so surprised.

I went on vacation in South America where Caretta Caretta sea turtles lay eggs every year. I was told by a tour guide there that these turtles spend some time in the egg before they hatch. When they're ready, they crack the egg and walk into the ocean.

I think that's really cute and interesting!

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