Home Animals All About Lion Tongues: A Comprehensive Guide

All About Lion Tongues: A Comprehensive Guide

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Lioness with cubs running around in jungle.

Lions are truly formidable creatures, with massive 2-inch fangs, dinner-plate-sized paws, and powerful 500 lbs bodies made of lean muscle. But what about their tongues? While it may seem like an unimportant feature, a lion’s tongue is actually a deadly weapon. 

With just a few quick licks, a lion’s tongue can strip flesh from bone, making it a powerful tool for the hunt. Lions use their tongues to clean meat off of bones, strip off fur and feathers, and even lap up water from puddles.  

About Lions Tongues

Lion Tongues

Did you know that a lion’s tongue is covered in tiny, backwards-facing spikes known as papillae just like domestic cats? The roughness of a lion’s tongue is about fifty times greater which makes them perfect for various activities such as grooming, drinking, and feeding. 

However, despite the difference in size, the structure of a lion’s tongue is not very different from our own. It is made of muscle covered in skin and papillae. As majestic creatures of the Felidae family, lions have adapted to their environment in every possible way, and their rough tongues are just one of the ways they have become perfectly equipped for survival.

Lion Tongue Spikes 

As you are now aware that the spikes on a lion’s tongue are called papillae, which are the same structures found on most mammal tongues. However, what makes lion papillae unique is their structure. Unlike the soft and round papillae in most mammals, lion papillae are hard, pointed, hooked, and curved back into the mouth. 

This is because they are made of keratin, which is also found in claws, nails, and hair. But what’s interesting is that the lion’s papillae are attached to the tongue’s soft, flexible skin, which allows them to bend and change direction easily. 

This unique structure not only makes them more efficient at combing or raking through fur or flesh, but it also helps prevent injury. These papillae are highly adept at unravelling knots and tangles in the animal’s fur without causing any snagging or pulling due to their shape and flexibility.

Why Do Lions Have a Rough Tongue? 

The lion’s tongue is equipped with sharp papillae that face backwards like tiny hooks, causing friction when licked against a surface. This unique feature allows lions to perform tasks that humans cannot, such as grooming themselves or other lions. 

The papillae act as combs, raking through the fur and removing debris like dirt, dead skin, and loose fur. Domestic cats have a similar advantage, which is why they don’t typically require bathing unless they encounter something particularly unpleasant. 

Lions also use their rough tongues to remove odour, which helps to conceal them from their prey. Furthermore, grooming helps lions regulate their body temperature in the intense African sun.

When lions encounter prey, they use their tongues to strip the fur or feathers off. Repeated licking helps to loosen the follicles, and sometimes the lion will tug on tough spots with its teeth. 

This process tenderizes the meat by shredding it with the papillae and breaking it down with saliva. Although lions have sharp teeth for tearing flesh, their tongues are better at removing meat close to the bone. 

Therefore, they lick the bones of their prey to extract every last morsel of meat, even scraping at the bone itself with their rough tongues. The papillae on the tongue also provide a large surface area for lapping up water, acting like tiny cups to scoop up the liquid.

Which Big Cat Has The Roughest Tongue? 

Big cats may look very different from one another, but there is one thing they all have in common: their tongues. These magnificent creatures all use their tongues for the same purposes, making their tongues remarkably similar. The only factor that differs is their size, and consequently, the size of their spikes. 

The larger the cat, the larger the tongue, and the rougher the tongue becomes. It’s no surprise that the biggest felines in the Felidae family, such as tigers and lions, have the roughest tongues. Animal trainers who work with these majestic predators report very little difference between the tongues of lions and tigers.

Can Lion’s Tongue Rip Your Skin?

The tongue of a lion has the potential to tear your skin apart. If a lion were to lick your arm the way it licks its prey, your skin would be broken and injured in no time.

Nonetheless, there have been a few rare incidents where humans were licked by lions and survived. In such cases, the lions were generally exhibiting affectionate behaviour. 

In the wild, lions groom each other as a display of care, with mother lions grooming their young ones and adult lions bonding through grooming. Similarly, in captivity, lions may choose to groom humans they have formed a bond with.

However, when grooming, lions are much gentler than when they are feeding to ensure that they don’t cause any harm to one another. Lions possess thicker skin than humans and are covered in dense, coarse fur, which most of us do not have. 

Even the gentlest attempts at grooming a human can cause skin irritation or injury if done for an extended period in the same area. Therefore, it’s fortunate that lion keepers have more than one limb to offer the lions.

FAQs

Why is a lion’s tongue rough?

 A lion’s tongue is rough due to the presence of small, barbed structures on its surface called papillae. These papillae are made of keratin, the same substance found in human nails and hair. 

How powerful is a lion’s tongue?

 A lion’s tongue is incredibly powerful, and its rough texture helps it perform a range of functions. While there is no precise measurement of the strength of a lion’s tongue, it is strong enough to tear the skin of its prey and strip the meat off bones. Additionally, the rough surface of the tongue helps lions groom themselves and their companions and can even remove parasites from their fur. 

What is the use of the lion tongue?

The tongue can remove parasites, loose fur, and debris from the lion’s coat, which helps to keep it clean and healthy. During feeding, a lion’s tongue is incredibly powerful and can help the lion to strip the flesh of the bones of its prey. 

The rough surface of the tongue aids in this process, allowing the lion to get as much meat as possible off the carcass. Finally, the lion’s tongue can also help the animal drink water efficiently.

How strong is a lion?

Lions are incredibly strong animals and are among the largest of the big cats. Adult male lions can weigh up to 420 pounds (190 kg) and grow up to 10 feet (3 meters) long, including their tail. Females are slightly smaller, weighing around 280 pounds (127 kg) and measuring up to 9 feet (2.7 meters) in length.

Final Words

The strength and agility of a lion are well-known, but did you know that even their tongues are dangerous? The unique and remarkable structure of a cat’s tongue makes it a formidable tool for a range of purposes, from grooming to hunting. 

In fact, scientists have even used the design of the cat tongue to inspire new technology, such as hairbrushes and pet grooming tools that are more efficient at removing debris and parasites, detangling knots, and distributing medications. 

Factual Information about Lion Tongues

  • The surface of lion tongues is lined with small, barbed structures called “papillae.”
  • These papillae are composed of keratin, the same substance found in human nails and hair.
  • Lion tongues are specialized for multiple functions, including:
  • Ripping flesh off bones
  • Eliminating feathers or fur from the skin
  • Brushing through the fur to groom it
  • Efficiently collecting water

Reference:

Author Profile
Jeevan Kodiyan
Zoologist | Wildlife Conservation at Animals Research

An animal enthusiast with an interest in zoology, studying the behavior and activities of animals in the wild habitat. I work on research projects related to species conservation and endangered species protection. I also leverage zoology to become an educator, educating others about the importance of protecting our natural environment and the beauty of animals in their natural habitats.

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An animal enthusiast with an interest in zoology, studying the behavior and activities of animals in the wild habitat. I work on research projects related to species conservation and endangered species protection. I also leverage zoology to become an educator, educating others about the importance of protecting our natural environment and the beauty of animals in their natural habitats.

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