Do Ostriches Have Teeth and How Do They Eat?

Do Ostriches Have Teeth

Some of the oldest birds (think 150 million years ago) such as the Archaeopteryx had reptilian-like teeth, but is this true for modern-day birds such as an Ostrich?

Ostriches, similar to all modern-day birds, don’t have teeth, but instead use their beaks to swallow their food whole, where it is broken up in the gizzard.

With the knowledge that birds don’t have teeth, let’s take a deeper look into how Ostriches eat, why they eat stones, and if you should worry about an ostrich biting you.

Do Ostriches Have Teeth

As mentioned above, no modern-day birds have teeth, and ostriches are no different.

Unlike mammals who need to chew their food to break it down, ostriches, similar to other birds, make use of alternative methods.

Ostriches don't have teeth

Thanks to their blunt strong beaks and unique digestive system, ostriches are able to grab food, swallow it whole, and digest it.

How Do Ostriches Eat Without Teeth

Although they don’t have teeth, ostriches’ beaks are wide, strong, and sturdy, with a rounded tip, which easily allows them to pick up and tear food. But this is not the end of the process.

Ostriches Eat Without Teeth

Even though they don’t have teeth, ostriches still need to break their food down into easily digestible pieces.

This “chewing” is done in the ostriches’ stomach. 

Ostriches have two stomachs and a digestive tract that can stretch up to 46 feet and take at least 36 hours to digest food.

When an ostrich swallows its food, it makes its way to the first stomach (the proventriculus) where digestive enzymes are released.

From here the enzymes and food are moved to be pulverized by the second stomach

So how does an ostriches stomach “chew” its food? The answer is, with a gizzard and small stones or pebbles.

What Is A Gizzard

Also known as the ventriculus, gastric mill, or gigerum, the gizzard is an organ found in the digestive tract of birds, among other animals.

The gizzard (which acts as a specialized stomach) is a muscular organ that is used to grind up food inside the bird’s digestive tract.

Some birds such as ostriches digest small stones and grit to aid in the grinding process.

In birds, the gizzard occurs after the stomach. In the gizzard, small stones, shells, or pebbles are used to grind up food, which is then passed back into the main stomach.

In short, the gizzard is a specialized stomach that grinds food internally without the need for external teeth.

What Do Ostriches Eat

Ostriches have a diet made up primarily of plant matter.

What Do Ostriches Eat

In the wild, their diet consists of approximately 60% plant material, 15% fruits and legumes, 5% insects and small animals, and 20% grains, seeds, grit, and stones.

Some of their favorite foods include:

  • Green grasses
  • Leaves and bushes
  • Roots
  • Seeds
  • Succulents
  • Mice
  • Rats
  • Snakes
  • Frogs
  • Grasshoppers
  • Moths

Why Do Ostriches Eat Stones

Many birds eat stones to assist the work done by their gizzards, and ostriches fall into this category.

Ostriches Eat Stones

As they don’t have teeth, ostriches swallow small stones and pebbles which are stored in the second stomach (gizzard).

When food is eaten, the muscles of the gizzard roll around the grit, thus aiding in the breaking down of the food material.

Over time these stones become smooth through the process and are gradually made smaller.

Once the stones are too small to do the job, they are excreted or regurgitated and replaced with fresh grit.

Without the aid of the stones, ostriches would not be able to efficiently break down their food.

Can Ostriches Bite

Although ostriches don’t have teeth, they can still leave a nasty bite.

Ostriches have hard and powerful beaks that can do some damage if they catch in the right spot.

As ostriches use their beaks to pull worms and plant matter from the ground, the same force on a finger could leave a serious mark.

That said, a bit from an ostrich won’t be piercing such as that from a dog or from birds with beaks that are sharp.

Although ostriches may bite when defending themselves, it is more likely that they will make use of their sharp and powerful claws.

Tame ostriches often peck at people to gain attention or for food, which can be incredibly gentle when the bird wants to be.

What Are Ostriches Beaks Made Of

Ostrich beaks are made up of calcium and keratin.

These minerals make the beak of an ostrich as strong as teeth, which can easily grasp and hold prey, as well as be used as a defensive mechanism.

Because the beak of an ostrich is made of keratin, many people believe that the bird can feel no pain in the area, however, this is far from the truth.

A cracked or broken beak is like a broken tooth. As nerve endings are connected to the beak, any damage or injury can result in the bird experiencing immense amounts of pain.

Because the beak is full of blood vessels, a broken beak is likely to cause excessive bleeding.

Are Ostriches Aggressive

According to the paper “Abnormal trauma by ostrich” published by PMC, ostriches are not generally aggressive.

Ostriches are not aggressive

Wild ostriches see humans as potential predators (and correctly so) and tend to run away when approached.

That said, these long-necked birds may turn aggressive when threatened by being cornered, or when they feel their offspring or territory is at risk.

In these cases, it is more likely for an ostrich to chase and attempt to kick you than peck or bite.

5 Interesting Facts About How Ostriches Eat

1. An Adult ostrich can carry about 2.2 pounds ( 1 kg) of stones in its gizzard at a time.

2. In the past it was believed that ostriches could digest metals such as gold, however, this myth has been debunked.

3. Although ostriches are omnivores, they tend to stick to a vegetarian diet unless food sources are scarce.

4. Ostriches don’t need to drink water as they get all their moisture needs from the food they eat. That said, if they come across a watering hole, they tend to stop for a drink.

5. It’s impossible for an ostrich to choke on its food.

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