My, What Big Teeth You Have!

No, you are not looking at the skull of some prehistoric species of alligator that once slithered through the swamps of Alaska when it was at a more southerly, tropical locale.

Or a baby dragon.

Nor is it the snout of a wolf or husky – but it is something of an honorary member of the canid family.

(TOGIAK NWR/USFWS)

It’s Oncorhynchus keta, better known to anglers as a chum salmon and sometimes called dog.

The image was snapped on a gravel bar in the Togiak NationalWildlife Refuge, and probably belonged to either a female or subordinatemale, speculates a salmon biologist on one of the WestCoast’s chummier rivers.

“Dominant males tend to growsome really nasty teeth, and often a set of canines. Subordinate males grow less in the way of teeth. But different populations can have larger or less impressive dentures too, so it depends a lot,” says Brett Barkdull.

The reason for that fearsome grill isn’t so much to savage seafood – out in the Pacific chums mainly feast on tiny crustaceans and soft-bodied mollusks, squid and worms – but for their brief time in the rivers.

“Chums fight like crazy,” says Barkdull. “Males fight males, females fight females. It’s quite common to see males with their caudul peduncle all chewed up – sometimes even bitten half through. They will kill each other at times.”

We joked that those big toofers might also be a defense against Alaska’s wellknown
brown bears, but Barkdull – whose gig requires himto wade salmon streams – didn’t exactly laugh at that one.
“When they are spawning, watch out.

I’ve been grabbed around the ankle more than once. They will defend themselves,”
he says.

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