In the animal kingdom, there are few rivals of the gecko’s super sticky, fast-moving feet. In fact, NASA researched the minuscule hairs on their feet (called setae) and developed a gecko-inspired adhesive to use in the harsh environment of space. Geckos employ intriguing van der Waals forces that allow for suction and easy release on vertical and upside down surfaces.
Not entirely unlike the feet of geckos are cat tongues. Equally amazing in their design and intrinsic capabilities, cat tongues are also inspiring university scientists to create new technologies.
At first glance or touch, you might make the assumption that a feline’s tongue is like sandpaper or sharkskin – and you’d be right. Beyond the scratchy surface, however, cat tongues are equipped with bristles that are highly dexterous for personal hygiene, eating, and drinking.
A Closer Look
Magnified, cat tongues are comprised of small spines called papillae. Akin to small hooks, the papillae are made of keratin and are all pointed backwards toward the throat. Their direction makes it easier for a grooming cat to swallow shredded or loose fur.
Cats tongues are like human hair brushes, which is a good thing since cats spend much of their waking hours fastidiously cleaning themselves. Staying clean is vital to a cat’s survival in the wild. If a predator catches a cat’s scent, one of their 9 lives could be sacrificed. As an added bonus, all that grooming keeps their fur tangle-free and gleaming!
Like Small Claws
The papillae look a lot like a cat’s claws and have the ability to sort out knots, parasites, dirt, and debris in the fur. By moving the fur in one direction, cat tongues re-distribute the coat’s natural oils which aid in protecting them from the elements. However, there’s more to the design of cat tongues than simple grooming. The direction of the keratin-filled papillae show that circulation is also greatly improved during and after grooming.
Form Meets Function
Researchers have found that the papillae actually rotate in four directions and can effectively remove snags or pull them apart. They’re also highly flexible, which maximizes their cleaning abilities.
Cat tongues are adept at keeping prey inside the mouth and are useful in scraping raw meat off the bones. Their design also allows felines to pick up micro-droplets of water. Otherwise, because of the shape of the mouth, cats would drool all over their chin, neck, and chest.
If that doesn’t amaze you, consider the field of soft robotics. Researchers are trying to mimic the soft and dexterous yet coarse qualities of a cat’s tongue for future technologies.
Incredible Cat Tongues
We’ll leave you with a few more amazing facts:
The taste, temperature, and texture of food and drink are all sensed by cat tongues, but there aren’t a ton of taste buds.
The healing qualities of cat tongues have been well documented. In fact, self-cleaning body wounds contributes to faster recovery from injury.
Cats who trust each other groom one another.
If you’re being groomed by a cat, you are trusted completely.
While your cat is very good at self-grooming, he or she depends on your fur removal services. A good brushing can go a long way toward feline affection.
As always, please let us know if you have any questions or concerns about your cat’s health or behavior.