Do Sharks Have Tongues? [Amazing Tongue Function]

Indeed, sharks do have tongues – but it’s totally different from the tongues of humans and other mammals. Sharks possess an incredibly minuscule, flat organ at the bottom of their mouths, serving as their tongue.

Let’s dive into this fascinating article to discover how the unique anatomy of a shark’s tongue contributes to its remarkable lifestyle.

Do Sharks Have Tongues?

Sharks possess a distinctive tongue, unlike any other creature on earth. Instead of relying on the soft muscle and flexibility that characterizes most animal tongues, shark tongues are thin pieces of cartilage attached to their mouth floor. These unique structures do not move or protrude in any way; instead, they surround small tooth-like constructions known as papillae.

sharks mouth and tongue

These papillae give the tongue its rough texture and provide it with an impressive grip on prey items such as fish or crustaceans. The papillae also act to help prevent food from slipping out of the shark’s mouth when it bites down.

In addition to having an impressive gripping ability, research shows that shark tongues may actually be able to taste their environment using special sensory cells known as ampullae of Lorenzini.

This suggests that sharks use their tongues not only for grip but also to assess prey before they decide whether or not they should bite down. Ultimately, sharks rely heavily on their tongues to capture and process their meals efficiently in the vast ocean depths.

What Is a Shark’s Tongue Called?

A shark’s tongue, known as a basihyal, consists of four muscular lobes that are usually slimmer at the sides and thicker in the middle. This allows it to act like a suction cup used to capture prey.

The basihyal is made up of rough denticles, which help grip food while consuming it. It is attached directly to the floor of the mouth and lacks taste buds, makings them unable to distinguish between flavours.

Sharks also have an array of papillae on their tongues which acts as a filter bed, trapping any particles that pass through their mouth while hunting for prey. The papillae are loaded with taste receptors that detect even the slightest chemical differences in the water, helping them locate potentially nutritious food sources.

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On top of this, sharks have glands inside their mouths that create mucus which helps keep their tongues moist and sticky for efficient catching and keeping of prey items.

Can Sharks Taste Their Prey Using Tongues?

No, sharks cannot taste their food with tongues as humans do. This is because shark anatomy does not permit the presence of taste buds on their tongue; rather, these receptors exist in a special lining – known as lingual epithelium – inside their mouth.

This particular tissue covers the shark’s gums and palate and contains thousands of small pores that allow water and other substances to enter directly into the shark’s olfactory system via tiny ducts that lead up to its nose.

Through this structure, a shark is able to detect tiny concentrations of tastes in the surrounding water, thus allowing them to locate and identify potential prey items with great accuracy.

Additionally, this same tissue also helps them differentiate between salty and freshwater by enabling them to detect various ions in solution, such as calcium and chloride ions, which play an important role in salinity detection. All these processes take place without relying on their tongues at all.

Even more fascinating is how a shark can actually determine how nutritious food is simply by tasting it once, thanks to the presence of special proteins found in its lingual epithelium that enable it to recognize lipids and proteins within very small quantities.

What Do Sharks’ Tongues Do?

Sharks’ tongues are highly specialized organs used for a variety of functions, including hunting and eating prey. The tongue is mainly composed of the lingual frenulum, a piece of tissue that attaches the tongue to the bottom of the shark’s mouth.

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This attachment is highly elastic, allowing the shark to protrude its tongue outwards in order to make contact with food sources.

In addition to being used for eating prey, sharks’ tongues can also be used to detect changes in pressure in the water, alerting them to possible prey or danger.


The top surface of a shark’s tongue consists of numerous small tooth-like denticles, which have evolved over time as an adaptation to help them capture and break down prey more efficiently. This unique design helps give sharks superior control over their bite and allows them to capture slippery fish with greater efficiency than many other predators.

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Furthermore, these teeth-like structures improve the overall grip on food sources by providing additional traction when making contact with potential prey items.

Shark tongues are used for locating and capturing prey and cleaning their skin from parasites such as leeches or copepods that might otherwise attach themselves and cause harm or irritation.

By quickly running their tongue across their body or fins, sharks are able to remove any unwanted pests from their skin before they become too problematic.

Additionally, some species, like Nurse Sharks, have been observed using their tongues to scavenge around coral reef habitats, searching for hidden mollusks they can feed upon.

Do Sharks Stick Out Their Tongues?

Sharks do not have the ability to stick out their tongues like many other animals, such as cats and dogs. This is because they, unlike most vertebrates, don’t have a structure known as a hyoid arch within their throat that helps with tongue movement.

Instead, sharks have an array of small teeth and gums in their mouth that allow them to move food around and swallow it down.

The tongue is quite short and only functions to keep prey caught in the shark’s mouth or help move food toward the throat.

Sharks are also unable to produce saliva, which would be necessary for them to stick out their tongues, so they can only swallow their prey whole. Therefore, it is not possible for sharks to stick out their tongues as other animals can.


In addition, sharks’ tongues have sensory receptors known as ampullae of Lorenzini (found on the upper jaw), which help them detect electrical fields created by other sea creatures.

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These receptors provide clues about what food sources may be nearby and aid in hunting behavior. Furthermore, some species of sharks’ mouths also contain chemoreceptors that are sensitive to smells in the water and help guide them toward potential prey.

What Are Sharks’ Tongues Composed Of?

Shark tongues are structurally composed of cartilage, a tough yet flexible connective tissue found in many animals. The cartilage that makes up the tongue is highly specialized for the shark’s unique diet and lifestyle.

It is composed of several layers of fibrous material, each with its specific purpose. The outermost layer has a dense array of hard, calcified spines that help the shark grip onto its prey while it feeds.

Beneath this layer lies a softer web-like structure which increases flexibility and assists with taste reception by allowing water to flow through and contact taste buds located on the tongue’s surface. These taste buds help detect food items in the water around the shark, such as small fish or plankton, alerting it to their presence so it can move in for an attack.

Located beneath these two layers is a core made up of collagenous fibers, which gives the tongue its flexibility and strength so it can be used to hold onto prey as well as manipulate items in the shark’s mouth before swallowing them whole.

Each layer has evolved over time to give sharks an advantage when hunting and consuming their prey, allowing them to maximize their success rate while minimizing energy expenditure during meals.


So, you know that sharks have a cartilage-made tongue, which is not like other animals, due to the lack of saliva production and hyoid arch. Instead, sharks have an array of small teeth and gums in their mouth that allow them to move food around and swallow it down.

The tongue is quite short and only functions to keep prey caught in the shark’s mouth or help move food toward the throat. So next time you see a shark, you can tell it has a tongue but not a large one!

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