Do Sharks Have Tongues? Can Sharks Stick their Tongue Out?

30-second summary:

👅 Do sharks have tongues – Yes! But not the literal one. Their tongue isn’t fluid and doesn’t have any taste buds.

🦈 Shark’s tongue is also known as – Basihyal.

🐳 What’s the use of Basihyal? – It is to help the shark know if the food is consumable.

🦐 How do they Swallow the Food? – Since they don’t have the literal tongue to swallow. They shrug their shoulders to keep prey moving to their stomachs.

🦷 How many teeth does a shark have in its lifetime? – Over 50,000

😋 Favorite food for Sharks? – Seals

Sharks were just another very large species of fish that existed somewhere in the ocean until Stephen Spielberg made a classic that made sharks the bad boys of the ocean forever. That was probably the first-time sharks entered pop culture and how.

Their huge teeth, their aggressive nature, and their ability to destroy anything that came in their way with an easy will made them the villains of the salty waters. Well, that’s what everyone knows about sharks.

But as an intriguing species that has not only managed to survive for so many years (scientists believe sharks first appeared in the ocean 455 million years ago) but have only gone from strength to strength has a lot that we don’t know.

They continue to be shown as one of the deadliest animals in the world in popular media and only images we can remember from the footage often circulated on social media or infotainment channels are of sharks ripping off chunks of meat from their bait or aggressively attacking those willing to risk their lives in the name of shark tourism.

Well, that is that. But there is a lot to these enigmatic creatures who rule the length and breadth of the ocean. They are one of the topmost predators in the ocean’s ecosystem and are considered to be one of the strongest animals in the world.

Must read: Are There Sharks in the Mediterranean Sea?

But they play an important role in maintaining the food chain. Their predatory instincts create a balance that keeps a check on the over-abundance of their prey. Their presence protects corals and seagrass as they shoo away their predators.

But no matter how important these scariest animals in the world are for the ecosystem; their popular image stops people from knowing about them. Unlike other species in the ocean like whales, sea lions, dolphins, etc who have a cuter image, sharks make a perfect subject for horror stories.

But there are so many interesting aspects about sharks that make them a matter of interesting studies.

Do Sharks Have Tongues?

Sharks have tongues, but it’s not technically tongue

The anatomy of Shark's tongue
The anatomy of Shark’s tongue

Unlike other bigger fishes like dolphins that can stick their tongues out and make cute noises, sharks have what is known as basihyal.

Shark’s tongue is actually cartilage that is short, stout, very strong, but not flexible. It is located at the bottom of their mouth. It neither has any taste buds nor does it perform any function. So, whenever sharks open their mouths, all we can see are their terrifying teeth that overshadow every other characteristic of sharks.

Well, do fish have tongues?

The answer is the same – even fishes have

What purpose does a shark’s tongue solve?

You must be wondering – why is there an organ that resembles a tongue, but has no taste buds or any other significant purpose present in a shark’s body?

What purpose does it solve? Some scientists believe that it is there to protect the ventral aorta, which is present very close to the shark’s mouth from the big, wiggly food they consume.

A shark’s body has no bones, and it is entirely made of cartilage. They don’t have ribs either as they don’t need that kind of protection of their body. There is a large portion of the cartilage that extends up to the mouth and provides much-needed support to the gills.

This very large chunk of the cartilage that ends in the mouth is what appears to be the tongue of a shark. The positioning of this cartilage is quite similar to the positioning of a human tongue, but the similarity pretty much ends there.

As there are no taste buds on a shark’s tongue, they taste their food with a papillae lining that is located inside their mouth and throat. This lining helps them decide whether their prey is suitable for eating or not before they gulp it down.

Their taste sense is not very strong. Their senses only function to help them know whether a food item is edible or not. That is why sharks are voracious eaters and consume whatever is even remotely edible.

Some sharks do use their tongue, though!

Shark tongue in the news!

The parasite that replaces a fish’s tongue caught at Texas state park(source).

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While most sharks do not use their tongues for purposes tongues are known to perform, there are three species are sharks that do make some good use of their tongues. These are carpet sharks, cookie-cutter sharks, and bullhead sharks.

Carpet and bullhead shark tongues

Do Sharks Have Tongues?
By Cymothoa exigua

These two species of sharks have very different kinds of tongues as compared to all other species. They are much larger, softer, flatter, and moveable.

This means, that these two sharks can use their tongues to suck on their prey apart from using their powerful pharyngeal muscles.

But still, they don’t use their tongues to taste the prey. Before they completely swallow their food, they swallow a portion of the prey and use the taste buds located in their mouth to get a hint of whether the food is edible or not. Once the taste buds give them a go-ahead, do they consume their entire catch.

Do Sharks Have Tongues?
Shark eating it’s prey with the help of tongue

These sharks have tongues that are a lot stronger than other sharks. They are attached and strengthened by very strong throat muscles known as rectus cervicis.

Unlike the tongues in other animals, where it is attached to the floor of the mouth, the tongues of cookie-cutter sharks are attached to their throat.

This makes it possible for these sharks to suck out cookie-shaped meat from their prey (possibly why they got their names) mostly consisting of cetaceans, pelagic fishes, and pinnipeds. These sharks also have very sharp teeth that they use to split open their prey and then use their powerful muscles from the throat to suck out the flesh.

Also read: 7 Most Dangerous Sharks in The Ocean

Do sharks bite their own tongue?

Humans often end up, unknowingly biting their tongues. And it is rather painful. But do sharks bite their tongue too?

With such huge, sharp, and powerful teeth filling their mouth, it is quite obvious that they would. On the contrary, despite their sharp teeth, sharks hardly ever bite their tongues.

The reason is simple! Their tongues are mostly immovable and are attached to the floor of their mouth. These muscles are spread out evenly and are laden with nerve endings known as proprioceptors.

These receptors constantly keep a check on the muscular tension and movement and send appropriate signals to the brain. This means, the brain is aware of the position of the tongue at all times and keeps complete control of all kinds of movements around it.

This kind of streamlined information that the brain has makes it almost impossible for the sharks to unwillingly bite their tongues.

Can sharks stick their tongues out?

With such impeccable control that sharks have on their tongue, it is quite natural to think that they would be able to do whatever they want with their tongues.

Again, the answer is no. Sharks cannot stick their tongues out. Unlike human tongues or tongues of other animals, shark tongues are made of cartilage.

This allows very limited movement to the muscles. Their tongues do not perform any significant function and thus their movement is also very limited. So, it is not possible for the sharks to extend the cartilage and stick it out of their mouth.

What does a shark’s tongue look like?

A shark’s tongue is a powerful muscle-like organ that moves in a limited capacity to usually collect food. Different species of sharks have tongues of varied sizes.

While some have very small and stout ones, others have bigger tongues. But more or less, their functions are pretty much the same. The size of their jaw plays an important role in the size of their tongue. A small jaw means that there are fewer sensory organs in the tongue.

These species of sharks rely heavily on their sense of smell for hunting as compared to some other bigger sharks like the great white sharks or the bull sharks.

The shape of their tongues also varies from one species to the other. Some sharks have one or two prongs at the end of their tongues, while some other sharks have irregular shapes at the end of their tongue that often resemble a claw-like appendage. This is present where their tongues attach to their mouths.

The tip of a shark’s tongue is known as lamella that has a small, tooth-like surface that helps them to hold on to their food and move them around within their mouth.

The tongues have several rows of hardpoints that they use to get a grip on their prey and navigate it for swallowing. Sharks prey on their food by using the brut muscular force of their mouth, but they use enough force so that it is not completely crushed.

The hardpoints present on their tongue then get a grip on the prey and help the shark to easily swallow it. Their tongues are more like conveyor belts that move their food around in their mouth before swallowing it.

Also Read  7 Most Dangerous Sharks in The Ocean: Top Deadliest Species

Do sharks really like human blood?

Do Sharks Have Tongues?

The debate of whether sharks love humans has been going on for decades. And scientists have conducted several studies to find a final solution.

But it seems that the results have varied and there is still no conclusive evidence to prove that sharks like human blood.

Some studies suggest that sharks mostly prey on small fishes and thus have no liking for human blood.

But other shark species like Tiger Sharks that prey on seals, a blood type that is quite similar to humans, might have a taste for red meat and its blood.

But still, there has been no strong correlation between sharks attacking humans because they like human flesh and blood.

Shark Attacks?

Do Sharks Have Tongues?
Shark attacks

Several parts of the world have seen an increased amount of shark attacks on humans, especially in some parts of Australia and the Aegean sea.

But scientists believe that there could be two main reasons behind them, and sharks liking humans is not one of them.

Firstly, all the incidents and beaches where shark attacks have increased are the ones where more and more people have been diving into the water.

Humans coming in contact with wild animals is not rare. These kinds of incidences happen on land as well where tigers, leopards, bears, etc have attacked the human population.

Similar is the case with shark attacks. The more humans and wild animals come in contact with each other, the greater number of attacks are likely to take place.

You may also like: 9 Most Common and Unusual Sharks in the Atlantic Ocean

Secondly, these very places have also seen a rise in the number of seals, an animal that tiger sharks and other bigger species of sharks love to prey on. Seals have been categorized as species that require protection, and several efforts have been made to sustain their numbers.

Seals are one of the most favorite food items for bigger sharks. And this rising number of seals around the areas where a higher number of shark attacks on humans have been reported are in perfect conjunction with each other, feel scientists.

Yet another reason often cited in these studies is the environmental changes that the oceans are going through. This might be bringing about behavioral changes in sharks as well.

The disintegration of habitat, rise in the temperature of the ocean water, lack of food available due to increased fishing, and several other reasons might result in sharks looking out for other food options.

But still, there haven’t been many such instances where the sharks completely preyed on a human. There have been instances of shark bites and that can also be attributed to mistaken identity.

Some scientists believe that moving human feet from the bottom looks like a certain kind of fish that sharks prey on. So, they might be biting humans thinking it’s their prey. But once they bite into them, they realize that it’s not the same thing.


Sharks are definitely one of the most dangerous animals in the world. And their ferocity sure makes them a much-feared species as well.

But these creatures provide a lot of material for scientists to study as well. Their tongues are a case in point. It is an organ that resembles a tongue but actually isn’t. It is a cartilage that performs very limited functions.

Neither does it come out of the mouth, nor does it taste food. But it sure provides much-needed protection to the shark’s ventral aorta that is located just near the mouth and supports their gills.

Frequently asked questions about sharks tongues

Why do shark tongues are considered to be so different from other species?

Shark tongues are different from other species because they are not made of regular muscles. Instead, they are made of cartilage that has no major function to perform.
Neither do their tongues can sense taste nor can sharks stick them out like a lot of other species.
But their tongues do provide protection to their ventral aorta located near their mouth as well as support to their gills.
Apart from that, certain species of sharks also have certain teeth like projections on their tongue that help them move their food within the mouth and swallow it.

Why sharks can’t stick their tongues out, unlike other creatures?

Shark tongues are made of cartilage and they move only for a very small amount. Their tongues perform very few functions and the incapability of sticking them out is due to their make. There are no muscles that can be moved on will.

How do sharks taste their food?

Sharks are not known to have a very strong sense of taste. They do have a strong sense of smell though.
The sharks have small sensors on their tongues and on other surfaces of their mouth that allow them to check if the food is edible or not. Beyond that, they don’t have any taste sense. They swallow the food it is edible.

James Ardimento has spent the last 12 years journeying around the globe ! With its precious experiences and tips he gained around Asia, South America, Europe and the US he is a precious asset for this blog and for its readers