In another article on our saltwater species list, we look at Tarpon and the nature of their teeth and bite.
If you’re targeting tarpon on your next fishing trip, you might be wondering how to handle and land these large fighting fish.
When sticking your hand in or near the mouth of such a big fish you definitely want to know, do tarpon have teeth?
Tarpon have small teeth that densely pack their jaws, tongue, skull base, vomer, palatines, and pterygoids. These teeth are present in their larvae phase and shrink as they get older, but they’re not significant enough to fear an injury from.
In this article, we explore what these teeth look like and what you should expect from a Tarpon bite. We also explain what goes into lipping Tarpon and how to handle them in a way that is safe for both you and the fish.
What Do Tarpon Teeth Look Like?
Tarpon are large fish from the genus Megalops, so it’s interesting to look in their mouth and see tiny teeth that don’t match their enormous size. These villiform teeth pack in all over their mouth, so you’ll see rows and rows of miniscule teeth covering even their jaws and tongue.
While these teeth are pointy and needlelike, they do little for biting. The Tarpon has a large lower jaw that protrudes and leaves their mouth gaping wide with plenty of room for the teeth and a bony plate on their jaw that helps them crush prey like sardines, anchovies, catfish, and pinfish. They get little use of the endless teeth.
These play a bigger role during the Tarpon’s larvae phase. When they’re small, slender babies the teeth point outwards and act as a guard while filtering anything from entering their mouth.
The tarpon’s teeth shrink as they age, and the teeth instead point inward but serve little purpose.
Can Tarpon Bite You?
While all fish can bite you, a tarpon bite isn’t any more dangerous.
They have large jaws and mouths that have no problem taking in your entire hand, but the teeth pose minor threat. Despite the chance of these bites, feeding Tarpon is a common attraction in certain areas.
With the strength of some tarpon jaws though, crushing injuries may be a possibility.
So if you do decide to go hand-feed Tarpon, you might want to keep your hand out of the mouth.
Do Tarpon Bites Hurt?
A Tarpon bite is unlikely to pierce your skin. While it’s better to not get bit, most Tarpon bites feel more like sandpaper rubbing against your skin. Their heavy weight magnifies this – tarpon can get up to 180 pounds.
The worst of these bites can scrape your skin and leave it raw, and you’ll need to deal with the discomfort in the long term, but there’s a low risk of excessive bleeding or pain.
It’s a good idea to wash and disinfect any bite you do get from a fish because they can attract nasties in their mouths. Or wear gloves that prevent any skin being broken.
Can You Lip Tarpon?
While you’re at little risk of harming yourself, there is little good reason to lip a Tarpon as they aren’t fished for food.
Proper handling explains you should not pull them from the water unless you’re looking for a state or world record, and even horizontal lipping can damage their jaw irreparably and make catch and release cruelty.
Because of their heavy body weight, when you try and lip them you put immense pressure and weight on their jaw, meaning you’re likely to cause damage.
Imagine lifting a kilo weight with a thin twig while holding the very end, hopefully that gives you some idea!
How to Safely Handle Tarpon
While there is no minimum size for fishing Tarpon, any over 40 inches must stay in the water. You should not tow a tarpon unless you’re trying to revive them.
If you must handle the tarpon, only use clean, wet hands, and try your best to minimize the time they spend next to the boat. Any time out of water should be minimal, and you need to ensure you support their head and stomach the entire time.
Are Tarpon Dangerous to Humans?
Tarpon are not dangerous to humans. While their bites can cause discomfort, they will not cause significant damage.
Most cases where a tarpon injured a human happened after trying to release the fish after a fight because of the tarpon’s violent thrashing behavior. The chances of this happening decrease with proper and respectful handling.