Do fish have tongues? Do they have taste buds?

By Nadine Oraby | 2020 Update

I had never seen my fish’s tongue which made me assume that it does not have any taste buds also but it seems like I was wrong this whole time so let me share my surprising research with you.

Do fish have tongues? Yes, they do. But how come it is not visible like ours when they get near the food? Well, it turns out that the fish’s tongue is a bony structure on the bottom of the mouth called basihyal but neither consists of taste buds nor moves. However, fish have taste buds all over their bodies like tail, fins, and even gills.

So, if you’re curious about how fish taste food or take into mouth then have a look at some interesting information below.

How do fish taste food?

So now that we know that fish have a tongue but not much of what you might think of it as. Hence, the next question to pop up in your mind might be how do they taste food without it?

So, in my knowledge, fish is also called a swimming tongue due to the fact that their whole body works as taste buds for them.

Amazing, right? You know, having a body that helps taste the food way before it goes into the mouth.

I know. That’s how astonishing fish are to know about. They can hear without an ear that does not show on the outside and have a tongue that is there but does not consists of taste buds or not muscular to move much.

Hence, for you to understand the phenomenon better, I’ve listed down some points that further elaborate on how fish taste the food.

Here you go.

  1. Fish can taste food just by bumping into it.
  2. Fish have extremely tiny bumps on their skin that get activated whenever a salty, bitter, or sweet thing touches it.
  3. The protective mucus present in and outside the fish body also works as an agent for the taste buds.
  4. Fish can smell food because of amino acids in water so when they cannot see in murky water, the only savior before gulping it is their taste buds located all over the body.
  5. This way, when the food touches the fish, it figures out the taste and consumes it if found favorable.

Having said this, if you have a fish and next time you offer it food, do not try rubbing it on its body because then it might feel terrified. Hence, the maximum you can do is place it near the mouth or barbels (if there are any) and let it do the job more naturally.

How do fish sense food (Video)

How does a fish tongue look like?

If you’re already wondering what a fish tongue looks like then try opening a dead fish’s mouth because you know, been there done that.

But before that, I’m more than happy to share my experience so let’s have a look.

  1. The fish tongue is bony and not much muscular.
  2. It lies on the floor of its mouth and primarily known as basihyal.
  3. Some types of fish also have teeth on their tongues to get hold of the prey.
  4. To make it simpler, the tongue is more like a continuation of the inner mouth that apparently looks similar to mammal’s tongue but does not function the same way.

Now, because the fish tongue is not muscular, it does not move much or folds. This also makes it obvious that a fish does not use its tongue and bring it out to take food inside but might just help in swallowing quickly.

What purpose does the fish tongue serve?

This one is not only interesting but also surprised me a bit as I can’t think of any other marine or land animal’s tongue to work the same way as it does for fish.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, the bony structure in the fish’s mouth is basically an extension and appears to be a tongue because of its shape and position.

However, when it comes to its actual purpose of being, turns out that the fish tongue is there to protect the ventral aorta which supplies blood to the gills through arteries.

Also, it works as a barrier to protect the fish from prey or other stuff that is harmful to swallow like large or wiggly food.

Other than this, the ventral aorta is close to the fish mouth that further concludes the whole story.

Parts of the fish body that work as taste buds

Imagine having a body that can taste food from any of its parts, from legs to hands, stomach, and face, etc.

Awesome, right? Because then it would be convenient to not put flavorless food inside the mouth to sense the taste.

This is exactly how the fish body works as a taste bud agent so let us now find out how many of its parts serve the purpose.

  • The gills that fish have in place of lungs like mammals.
  • The fin that fish use to swim.
  • The tail that has the most of those tiny bumps than any other part.
  • The area surrounding the mouth.
  • The barbels or whiskers.

In addition to this, catfish is the only type of fish to have maximum taste buds all over its body, somewhere around 100,000, as it also has whiskers.

How different is fish’s tongue to mammals’?

Like I said earlier, a fish’s tongue looks like one for sure but is not actually something that works the same way as it does for mammals or humans to be precise.

Hence, I’m going to list down some key differences between fish and mammal’s tongue to have a more obvious picture.

  • The tongue of mammals is muscular which is why it easy to move and fold whereas the fish tongue is bony and barely shows movement.
  • There are taste buds located on the tongue in mammals while fish’s taste buds are everywhere on the body except for the main thing.
  • Most fish have teeth on their tongue for them to easily hold the prey and undoubtedly, mammals don’t.
  • The tongue of mammals can lick and suck food in contrast to fish that helps in swallowing it quickly.

Related Questions

Which animals don’t have tongues?

For starters, we know that fish do have tongues but do not actually work like one.

However, there are some animals, both marine and land, that naturally do not have at all.

For example, sea stars that swallow their prey in whole pushing the stomach outwards through the mouth.

There are plenty of other examples as well, some of which are listed below.

  • Sea urchins have a strange way of eating anything that comes in contact.
  • Almost all insects do not have tongues.
  • Butterflies have a thin straw-like structure that is known to be their tongue.
  • Cockroaches have hair near the mouth and tongue that help them taste food.

Do betta fish have tongues?

There are mixed-up opinions on do betta fish have a tongue or not because honestly, they do have a thin tongue-like structure inside the mouth that they frequently take out and lick.

Although this has been confirmed by a great number of owners of betta fish, a small number of people still argue about it.

According to them, bettas don’t have tongues and the thing that appears for licking the glass of aquarium is not there to taste or chew food.

Do fish like sweet?

I don’t think so and my point is valid here.

See, ocean water does not have anything sweet in it, it’s more or less salty usually.

So, even if there is anything sweet, fish do not like its taste. You can try it sometime by introducing the flavor to your fish and I can bet it will not consume it.

Also, several studies show that whenever fish taste something sweet from their taste buds on the body and close to the mouth, they reject it then and there and proceed in search of something pleasant.

How many taste buds do fish have?

Unlike humans with actual tongues to taste the food, fish have taste buds all over their body including the tail, fins, and face.

They can taste food way before it gets into the mouth that shows the power of its taste buds.

Not sure about other types of fish but catfish have taste buds around 100,000 in comparison to humans who have only 10,000.

How do fish smell and taste?

Fish have a great sense of smell. They have these small openings on the head that direct to the nostrils. However, when it comes to tasting, they do it with the help of taste buds located outside of their bodies except for the tongue that works as a protecting agent for ventral aorta from parasites.

Fish are absolutely amazing and fun to read about. They have all their 5 senses but not on places where we expect them to be. Their vision, sense of smell, hear, taste, and touch all work fine but certainly not like other animals. So, go ahead and introduce your fish to some yummy treats because now you know that they can taste and enjoy their food like anyone else.

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