About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Do birds have teeth?

Modern birds are characterized by feathers, a beak and no teeth, although ancient birds did seem to have the pearly whites. Around 300 million years ago, the ancestor of all modern vertebrates gave rise to two lineages, the mammals and the reptiles/birds. The oldest reptiles, such as crocodiles and alligators, had cone-shaped teeth. So did the earliest birds, called archosaurs.

Then, around 80 million years ago, modern birds emerged without teeth. It turns out that while developing a beak, birds lost their teeth.
Normal chick (left), mutant jaw (right) shows teeth
CREDIT: John F. Fallon and Matthew P. Harris

John Fallon of the University of Wisconsin was able to conduct an experiment in 2005 that induced tooth growth in normal developing chickens by tweaking the genes. The chicks were not allowed to fully develop, but their teeth looked like reptilian teeth and shared many of the same genetic traits. 

A direct application of this research could be re-growing teeth in people who have lost them through accident or disease.

The Development of Archosaurian First-Generation Teeth in a Chicken Mutant - http://www.cell.com/current-biology/retrieve/pii/S0960982206000649

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