Biology Senses

Shark Tongue | Uses And Other Feeding Habits

shark tongue

Does a shark tongue exist? Last week I went to the aquarium in search of my favourite animal, the shark. I was curious to know a lot about these incredible creatures, and this question came into my head. Do sharks have a tongue? I did some research and asked some shark experts, and what I found out was truly amazing!

Do Sharks Have A Tongue?

Yes. Sharks do have a tongue! A shark’s tongue is called a ‘basihyal’. A basihyal is a small, thick, relatively immobile piece of cartilage located on the bottom of the mouth of sharks. The tongue appears to be useless to most sharks, with the exception of Carpet Sharks, Cookie Cutter Sharks, and Bull Sharks, who use it (along with a set of very sharp teeth and suction) to rip ‘meat cookies’ from their prey.

It extends from the mouth to the sharks’ chest where it supports the gills and the other organs.

carpet shark
Image of a Carpet Shark

Shark Tongue | Uses

Sharks have different uses for their tongue depending on their species. A Cookie Cutter Shark uses their tongues to tear apart their prey, while on the other hand, the Carpet Shark and Bull Sharks use their tongue to suck in their prey from a far away distance. The Carpet Shark and the Bull Shark, with the help of the pharyngeal muscles, create an oral vacuum which draws in smaller fish.

Shark Tongue | Do Sharks Have Tastebuds?

If you are wondering whether or not taste buds are present on a sharks’ tongue, let me tell you that YES! Sharks do have taste buds! The taste buds are not found on the tongue, but rather on the papillae which serve to taste the prey before swallowing it just to check if it is edible or not.

Their taste buds function differently from a humans. They do not taste the meat of the fish, but the taste buds are used to know if the item in their mouth is edible at all. For example if it is something other than flesh. However, sharks are not picky eaters, they are opportunistic eaters.

bull shark
Image of a Bull Shark

Shark Tongue | What Do Sharks Eat?

Most sharks are carnivorous (they eat the meat of other animals) and highly efficient predators. However, other species of sharks will be happy with the plankton.

Due to the fact that there are different species of sharks, they also have different eating habits. The main factor that determines the diet of the shark is the type of prey available.

Sharks are also highly intelligent creatures and can adapt to their immediate environment at any time. When their favourite prey is scarce, they will just eat something else that is available.

Unfortunately, this has caused some sharks to eat whatever they can find in the ocean, including toxic and dangerous items. Some sharks have been known to eat garbage, oil, charcoal, plastic and fabrics that end up in the ocean.

Carnivorous sharks eat mainly fish, mollusks and crustaceans. However, larger sharks can also dine on seals, dolphins, sea lions, and other large sea mammals such as rays and turtles.

Toothless Sharks

As mentioned previously, there are some sharks that don’t feed on other marine animals. These are called ‘Planktivore’ sharks which like to feed primarily on plankton.

Examples of sharks that eat plankton are the the Basking Shark, the Whale Shark and the Megamouth Shark. They draw in water and filter food so that nutrients enter their bodies.

Plankton is a very tiny marine organism, which measures up to 1 millimetre in length. We still find it fascinating how a creature as big as a Whale Shark can be satisfied with this tiny plankton.

The answer to this is that a Whale Shark continuously traps plankton as they swim. The Whale Shark traps plankton through long filaments on its body, and then it waits for the plankton to accumulate a large amount before swallowing. Therefore, they can swallow over two kilograms of plankton every hour.

As you may have guessed, Planktivore sharks don’t use their tongues … and most do not even use their teeth to chew, they just swallow them whole!

whale shark
Image of a Whale Shark

How Much Do Sharks Eat?

You might think that since sharks are large animals, they have to eat a lot, am I right? The truth is, they only eat between 0.5 – 3.0 percent of their total body weight each day.

They don’t consume large amounts of food a day because, having poor chewing ability, they take a long time to digest everything they eat.

Furthermore, the digestive system of a shark is different from that of other mammals. Their intestines are rather short and have a spiral valve within a very short section. For this reason, many sharks don’t eat a large amount, and most do not even eat every day. Some eat every two weeks or don’t eat at all for months!

Shark taste buds always play an important role in deciding whether something is edible food or not. That’s why they’ll probably take a little bite of their prey first, and if it doesn’t taste like their ordinary menu, they’ll simply spit it out. This is the reason why when a shark attacks a human, it usually consists of just a single bite. Sharks do not recognise the taste of humans as food.

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