If you’ve ever put your hand into your guppy tank, you may have been surprised to receive little nibbles and pecks from your pet fish. Were your guppies trying to bite you, and do they have teeth?
The answer is that guppies do have teeth, but not like we have, and their bites are quite harmless to us – but what about each other?
In this bitesize article, I’ll reveal all.
So, What Kind of Teeth Do Guppies Have?
Like many other fish species, guppies don’t have teeth in their mouths but instead have pharyngeal teeth in their throats.
If you’ve ever been fishing or kept larger fish, you may have glimpsed these tiny teeth way down in the fish’s throat.
Unlike predatory fish with teeth in their mouths, guppies suck up and crush their food in their bony mouths before chewing and grinding it up with their ‘pharyngeal jaws.’
Can You See a Guppy’s Teeth?
Since guppies are so small and their tiny teeth are a long way down in their throats, it’s very difficult to see them!
Only if you were to inspect a dead fish might you be able to glance carefully through the oral cavity and see the pharyngeal teeth in their throats.
Can Guppies Bite You?
So if guppies don’t have teeth, why does it feel like they’re biting you?
If you’ve ever stuck your hand into a guppy tank, you may have felt lots of tickling, sucking, and pecking on your hand. You may even have been shocked at how strong these felt and quickly withdrawn your hand!
But I can assure you, these were not real bites with teeth. Your guppies were merely using the sucking and crushing action of their bony mouths to nibble your fingers.
Can My Guppy’s Bites Be Dangerous?
Because guppy bites are more akin to little pecks or sucking at your skin, they’re completely harmless. The worst that could happen is the surprise of the sensation giving you a fright!
If guppies did have teeth to bite you with, you’d know all about it, as anyone who’s been bitten by a fully-grown oscar will tell you!
Why Are My Guppies Biting My Fingers?
So, what are your guppies up to when they’re nibbling at your hands?
Like many other animals, guppies use their mouths for many functions – not just for biting and eating!
Because fish don’t have hands, they’ll often use their mouths to explore the world around them. If they’re curious about a particular object, they might suck or nibble on it to see what it is.
Maybe they wonder if your hands are a food source – guppies are after all aggressive feeders who are always on the lookout for new food items. Or maybe it’s just their way of saying ‘hello’!
This behavior, by the way, is what many experts attribute to shark attacks. Rather than wanting to eat humans, sharks simply give us a (sometimes fatal) nibble to find out what we are.
Luckily, these little livebearers are not as big or as toothy as sharks, so bites from guppies won’t hurt! Your fingers, on the other hand, could harm them.
Why You Shouldn’t Touch Your Guppy Fish
Although it may be difficult not to touch your pet fish when they’re all trying to test-bite your hands, it’s better to avoid it if possible.
Your hands contain several kinds of bacteria and other potential pathogens that could infect tropical fish and make them sick.
Additionally, touching aquarium fish can damage their slime coats, which are essential to protect them from skin infections.
Although you need to put your hands in the fish tank from time to time to clean the filter or vacuum the gravel, consider wearing rubber gloves when you do so. This will help to minimize the chances of making harmful contact with your fish.
At the very least, make sure your hands are super-clean before putting them in the tank!
Why Do My Guppies Bite Each Other?
Apart from biting your hands, you may be wondering if your guppies can inflict damage when they bite each other. The answer is: they can.
Because guppies have soft, delicate fins and scales, they can easily be injured by the menacing lunges of other guppies biting them.
While guppies tend to be considered fairly peaceful fish, they can be quite aggressive towards each other in some instances.
Male guppies, in particular, can behave territorially between one another when there is competition for female guppies, and these conflicts can become quite severe at times.
If there are not enough females to keep all of your males satisfied, aggressive encounters between fish can even end up with the weakest male guppies being killed by bullying.
How Can I Stop My Guppies From Fighting?
Because male guppies usually fight due to breeding competition, the best way to create a peaceful situation is to provide plenty of females for each male fish.
Guppy experts often advise keeping one male to every three females to disperse aggression and create a more harmonious setup.
The only (rather big) problem with keeping male and female guppies together is that they breed so prolifically; your aquarium may soon be overrun with them.
Keeping only male guppies is an option, but then you need to find other ways to prevent them from fighting. I explore the best practices for keeping all-male guppies in a single male-only tank in my article here.
Guppies do have teeth but only tiny pharyngeal teeth in the back of their throats. These tiny, barely visible teeth are used for crushing and grinding up food that they’ve swallowed.
Guppy bites are entirely harmless, meaning you don’t need to worry about your hands if you put them in the tank. You should, however, avoid touching your fish, for the sake of their wellbeing rather than yours.
To find out more about keeping guppies, check out our full care guide here.