No, the bizarre fish with human lips and teeth is not real, sorry

Reports suggest social media was "aroused" by a fish with human lips and teeth. What's going on?

Jackson Ryan Former Science Editor
Jackson Ryan was CNET's science editor, and a multiple award-winning one at that. Earlier, he'd been a scientist, but he realized he wasn't very happy sitting at a lab bench all day. Science writing, he realized, was the best job in the world -- it let him tell stories about space, the planet, climate change and the people working at the frontiers of human knowledge. He also owns a lot of ugly Christmas sweaters.
Jackson Ryan
2 min read

The fish with human lips.


In a year where pretty much anything feels possible (we've only just recovered from the parallel universe hoax), it appears the internet has become enamored with a fish.

A fish with human lips and teeth. 

The problem? Well, besides some worryingly sexual advances made toward the creature online -- the fish doesn't exist. At least, not with a set of pearly whites, like in the image above.

We can trace this weird photo back to a tweet by @raff_nasir on July 2, but it began to really pick up steam on Wednesday, when the unusual rumor was discussed in the UK tabloid, The Mirror, with a piece headlined "Bizarre fish pictured with eerily human-like teeth caught by angler in Malaysia."

The Mirror does not appear to have contacted any hardened fish experts on the matter and even claims "it is indeed an actual species of toothy fish" known as a triggerfish. Subsequent reports also comment on the fish saying it "may be a real, live triggerfish that inhabits tropical seas around the globe." However, we're fairly confident this one is a photoshop (and look, we'd be happy to be wrong here!)

Triggerfish are indeed real fish with plump lips. The image is doctored a little in this regard, but it's the teeth we're concerned with. Triggerfish do have a very unusual set of teeth -- but they aren't anything like our chompers. For instance, look at a triggerfish skeleton. Its teeth are indeed terrifying and they are even known to cause some problems for divers. 

"The ocean triggerfish on the Great Barrier Reef attacks divers who approach its nest," says David Booth, a marine ecologist at the University of Technology, Sydney. "Their very strong teeth can remove a finger!"

Okay, cool, yes, right. But are they human teeth?

"Their teeth are large but not human-like, so yes the pictures do look fake!" notes Booth. 

Look, I don't enjoy raining on people's human-fish parades. I do not find joy in telling you this creature is not real. But the scientists are telling me it doesn't exist. And I have to bring that information to you. We've seen how quickly misinformation spreads during the coronavirus pandemic. Things get twisted and soon after, you're hearing that masks don't work or they do work or they did work -- and it all becomes really confusing.

In conclusion: The fish with human lips and teeth is not real and it's always a good idea to check with your friendly ichthyologist if you have any doubts.