Terrifying Fact: Snails Have Thousands of Teeth

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Snails are hardly the dull creatures they’re often made out to be. They may be slow, but there are species of snails that can thrive in harsh environments, paralyze their prey, and have sex by harpooning their partners with love darts. If all that isn't enough to impress you, take a peek inside a snail's mouth if you ever get the opportunity: You’ll find rows and rows of sharp chompers, making up thousands of snail teeth all together, according to NPR.

Snails are packing dozens of rows of pearly whites, with a single snail boasting anywhere between 2000 and 15,000 teeth between its jaws. Up close, the inside of a snail’s mouth looks like it’s lined with Velcro. The snail teeth hook inward, making it easy for the animal to latch onto its meal and slide it down its gullet.

Close up of snail radula
Snail radula. / L. P. van Ofwegen - Maassen W. J. M. & Gittenberger E., Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

The sheer number of teeth it has isn’t the only thing that makes a snail’s smile terrifying. The mollusk cycles through teeth like a shark does, with new rows growing in the back of the mouth and gradually moving forward to bump out the worn teeth up front. Together these rows make something called a radula, a tongue-like pad the snail uses to snag food by extending it out of its mouth, xenomorph-style.

Of all snail varieties, limpets—a small type of sea snail—may be the most dentally gifted: Their teeth are made from protein reinforced by fine mineral nanofibers called goethite, and according to one study, they're even stronger than spider silk, potentially making them the toughest biological material on Earth.

One source of comfort here is that snail teeth are also tiny: A single limpet tooth is slimmer than a human hair. That means a vicious snail on the loose likely can’t do you much harm—unless maybe you’re a piece of grass.

Now that you know all about snail teeth, try to track down the slug and snail in this brainteaser.

A version of this story ran in 2018; it has been updated for 2023.