Planet Earth

SNAPSHOT: Cat Tongues Have Hollow Spines, and It Helps Keep Them Cool

By Alison MackeyNov 19, 2018 8:05 PM
cat grooming fur
A domestic cat grooming its fur. (Image courtesy of Candler Hobbs (Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta))

Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter for the latest science news
 

Each lick of a cat tongue releases one tenth an eyedropper of saliva from hollow, scoop-shaped cones called papillae. That’s one of the findings from a study released today in the journal PNAS that examines the cat tongue in unprecedented detail.

While the sharp rasp of a cat’s lick is no mystery, the hollow nature of some of the cones on the tongue surface is new to science. The two Georgia Institute of Technology researchers who conducted the study are calling them cavo papillae, and they were found in all six cat species used in the study, ranging from domestic kitty to lion.

The extreme cooling effect of these saliva deposits was another startling finding, with thermoscans showing an impressive temperature drop of 31 degrees F (17 degrees C) just after grooming. Cats can groom themselves for up to a quarter of their waking hours, and it’s estimated to be responsible for around a third of their moisture loss.

This is the surface of a cat's tongue. Rigid, hollow papillae near the tongue tip are shown on the right, while soft, conical papillae near the throat are shown to the left. (Credit: Alexis Noel)

This is the surface of a cat’s tongue. Rigid, hollow papillae near the tongue tip are shown on the right, while soft, conical papillae near the throat are shown to the left. (Credit: Alexis Noel)

1 free article left
Want More? Get unlimited access for as low as $1.99/month

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

1 free articleSubscribe
Discover Magazine Logo
Want more?

Keep reading for as low as $1.99!

Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Register or Log In

More From Discover
Recommendations From Our Store
Shop Now
Stay Curious
Join
Our List

Sign up for our weekly science updates.

 
Subscribe
To The Magazine

Save up to 70% off the cover price when you subscribe to Discover magazine.

Copyright © 2023 Kalmbach Media Co.