All day long, we use our tongues for a variety of purposes. Your tongue helps you to eat, talk, taste, and swallow. Despite this, most people do not know much about their tongues (probably because we don’t usually think about it).
Some of the facts below are so surprising that you may be left with your tongue hanging out of your mouth. So grab a snack, practice your tongue twisters, and get ready to find out some facts that might leave you tongue-tied. Let’s explore ten weird facts about your tongue.
Related: 10 Amazing Things You Didn’t Know Our Body Parts Can Do
10 Your Tongue Has the Most Flexible Muscles in Your Body
A common misconception often repeated is that the tongue is the strongest muscle in the body. This is not the case. The strongest muscle is generally considered to be the heart. However, the tongue is one of the most sensitive muscles we have in our bodies.
Drinking a sip of hot coffee or eating too-hot food can prove that to you, as the tongue is extremely sensitive to high temperatures. The tongue also has the most flexible muscles in our bodies. Think about how your tongue can move up, down, back, and forth; your tongue can even find small pieces of food between your teeth and dislodge them.
Many people (about 80 percent of the population) can curl their tongues into a tube, as you likely learned from your friends in kindergarten. However, even if you can’t roll your tongue, your tongue is still the most flexible muscle in your body. You definitely shouldn’t try rolling any of your other muscles! The tongue’s extreme flexibility is just the first weird fact on our list about our wiggling, tasting mouth muscles (tongues).
9 Your Tongue Cannot Taste without Saliva
As amazing as your tongue is, without saliva (spit), you would not be able to taste much. Your mouth secretes saliva via your salivary glands, activating your tongue’s taste buds. You can test this right now!
Simply dry off your tongue using a paper towel or napkin. Then, try to eat something dry, like a pretzel or a corn chip. You won’t taste much! Then, try the experiment again without drying your tongue (have a drink of water). Now, that is more like it! For an even better example, try experimenting with something sour, like a lemon or lime. You may not be able to tell it is sour until your salivary glands activate and your taste buds start working again. Amazing!
In most cases, with a dry mouth, the first thing you will taste is salt. This is because salt dissolves quickly and easily in water (or saliva). As amazing as the human tongue is, without saliva, we would not taste almost anything!
8 You Cannot See Taste Buds with the Naked Eye
Most people associate taste buds with the tongue. This makes sense because most people have between 2,000 and 4,000 taste buds on their tongue. However, there are also taste buds in other places, including the back of your throat, nose, and upper esophagus.
Taste buds cannot be seen with the naked eye either; they are too small. Small bumps on your tongue are often mistakenly thought to be taste buds. These are actually papillae. A typical tongue has somewhere between 200 and 400 papillae, mostly on the sides and tip of the tongue. Papillae usually have between three and six taste buds just below them. Despite their importance to our enjoyment of food, taste buds cannot be seen using just the naked eye.
7 Everyone Has a Unique “Tongue Print”
How are human tongues like snowflakes? The next weird tongue fact on our list is that no two tongues are alike! Like snowflakes and fingerprints, “tongue prints” are unique. Every person has a unique alignment and number of papillae and taste buds, as well as differences in size, shape, and flexibility.
Because of this unique quality, scientists and researchers are developing ways to incorporate a “tongue print” into a biometric identity verification tool. Instead of scanning a fingerprint to identify yourself, you would be able to scan your tongue. Hopefully, they are working to develop a way to keep it sanitary, too… In the future, there is the potential that you will not stick out your tongue to be rude, but instead, you will stick it out to be identified for work, access your bank account, vote, and more.
6 About 25% of the World Are “Super Tasters”
Scientists have determined that about one out of every four people is considered a “super taster.” A super taster is just what it sounds like: people who have a stronger sense of taste. This “superpower” shows up most often when eating especially bitter foods. Specifically, a compound called 6-n-propylthiouracil (PROP) can be tasted by super tasters.
However, there are also a group of people that cannot taste PROP. This group is also about a quarter of the population and is sometimes referred to as “nontasters” (though they can still taste). Whether you are a “super taster,” a “nontaster,” or neither, your tongue is still a pretty remarkable muscle.
5 The Average Tongue Is About 3 Inches Long
Tongues are unique to the individual, so there can be significant variations in tongue size. On average, men have longer tongues than women. An average male tongue is about 8.4 centimeters (3.3 inches) long, while an average female tongue is just 7.9 centimeters (3.1 inches).
By comparison, a chameleon’s tongue can extend twice the length of its body, and a giraffe’s tongue is almost 61 centimeters (24 inches) long on average. To measure a human tongue (not recommended), an official measurement is taken from the tip of the tongue to the epiglottis (the flap of cartilage at the back of a tongue).
Obviously, not everyone has their tongue length measured. However, of those who have, the longest tongue in the world belongs to an American, Nick Stoeberl. Stoeberl’s tongue was determined to be nearly four inches) long, almost a full inch over the global average. The final measurement for Stoeberl was 10.08 centimeters (3.97 inches). I wonder if he is a “super taster” as well.
4 Your Tongue Can Get Fat
Many people struggle with maintaining a healthy weight that they are happy with. When we put on weight, sometimes it goes to the belly, the hips, the face, or the legs. But did you know that your tongue can get fat too? That’s right!
It turns out that our tongues have a high percentage of fat. Therefore, as a person gains weight, some of that weight is held in the tongue. There has even been a correlation found between obesity and sleep apnea. The weight and size of the tongue can obstruct breathing during sleep and cause significant health problems. However, tongue weight alone is not the only way that doctors can use your tongue to identify underlying health issues.
3 Your Tongue Can Indicate Health Issues
Your tongue says a lot about you. Doctors can ascertain valuable medical information just by examining your tongue. This is why when you go for a check-up, one of the first things the doctor does is check your tongue (say “ahhh”). Here are some of the things medical professionals may look for:
- A bright red tongue may indicate nutritional deficiencies, such as folic acid or B12 deficiencies. Bright red tongues may also signify certain diseases, including scarlet fever and Kawasaki disease.
- A black (sometimes hairy) tongue typically indicates bacterial growth on the tongue. It is sometimes associated with diabetic patients or those undergoing chemotherapy.
- White spots on the tongue can be signs of leukoplakia or an oral yeast infection.
- Large, painful bumps on the tongue are typically canker sores but can also be an early sign of oral cancer.
You and your doctor are hoping for a pink tongue with no bumps. This is the typical appearance of a healthy tongue.
2 The Tongue Contains the Only Muscles That Move Independently of the Skeleton
The tongue is composed of eight muscles that combine together. This formation is called a muscular hydrostat. This means that it is an organ composed of a group of muscles. Other examples of muscular hydrostats in nature include octopus tentacles, elephant trunks, reptile tongues, and more.
Like tentacles, trunks, and other tongues, the human tongue can work completely independently of the skeleton. Test it out! You can easily move your tongue up, down, curl it (if you can) around, and side to side without moving any other part of your body. This is just another weird characteristic of one of our weirdest organs.
1 Children’s Tongues Experience Flavors More Intensely Than Adults
Have you ever thought back to the first time you ate ice cream? Looking back, it seems like it was so sweet and creamy and would never taste that good again. Well, some part of that might be nostalgia. However, you may never taste ice cream like you did when you were a kid. That is because taste buds change and develop as our bodies age.
A child has about the same amount of taste buds as adults, but as you might guess, children’s tongues are much smaller. Therefore, children have a far denser tongue regarding taste receptor cells. So this is why children are often seen as picky eaters. Over time, as tastes develop and change, kids will become more likely to enjoy bitter foods they did not enjoy when they were younger. Weird!