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What Is an Egg Tooth?

By Christina Edwards
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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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.

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.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is an egg tooth?

An egg tooth is a small, hard, and often sharp structure found on the beaks or snouts of many newborn animals, such as birds, reptiles, and some mammals. It serves a critical purpose during hatching, allowing the young animal to break through the tough outer shell of the egg. This temporary tool typically falls off or is reabsorbed shortly after the animal has hatched.

Do all animals with eggs have an egg tooth?

Not all egg-laying animals have an egg tooth. The egg tooth is primarily found in birds, reptiles, and certain egg-laying mammals like monotremes. However, not every species within these groups has an egg tooth; for example, some snakes are born live or hatch without the need for an egg tooth to pierce an eggshell.

How long does the egg tooth last after hatching?

The egg tooth is a temporary feature that typically falls off within a few days to a few weeks after hatching. In birds, it usually disappears within the first two weeks as it's no longer needed and the chick's beak begins to harden and take on its adult form.

Is the egg tooth a true tooth?

No, the egg tooth is not a true tooth. Unlike true teeth, which are composed of enamel and dentin and are embedded in the jaws of animals, the egg tooth is a specialized structure made of keratin or similar material. It does not have roots and is not a permanent part of the animal's mouth.

Can the egg tooth be harmful to the mother or siblings?

The egg tooth is specifically designed for breaking through the eggshell and is not sharp or strong enough to cause harm to the mother or siblings. It is a precise tool for hatching and is generally too small and blunt to inflict injury once the animal has emerged from the egg.

What happens if an animal is born without an egg tooth?

If an animal is supposed to have an egg tooth and is born without one, it may struggle to hatch on its own. In such cases, human intervention or the help of a parent or sibling may be necessary for the animal to emerge from the egg. Without assistance, the chances of survival can be significantly reduced.

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Discussion Comments

By SteamLouis — On Feb 04, 2013

@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.

By burcidi — On Feb 03, 2013

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.

By literally45 — On Feb 03, 2013

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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