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They have large teeth, but do sharks have tongues?

They have large teeth, but do sharks have tongues?

Do sharks have tongues? It is an interesting question for a fascinating creature.

In fact, you may be wondering about the answer right now since perhaps you have seen the orcas sticking out their tongues in pictures, videos, or maybe even in person. So, why can’t sharks do the same too?

The truth is that sharks have something called a basihyal, a piece of cartilage located on the floor of their mouth. This is the shark’s tongue.

Not only do sharks have basihyals, but other fishes have it as well. Superficially, it resembles a tongue, but the difference with a human’s tongue, for example, is that it does not have taste buds.

Another difference is that the shark’s tongue is not muscular and has a minimal range of motion. Therefore, it is not exactly a tongue like the one you and I have.

Shark Tongue

For what purpose do sharks have tongues?

As mentioned above, the basihyal, or the shark tongue, is not a muscle and does not move. “It probably originally evolved to protect the ventral aorta, which lies very close to the mouth, from impacts with large, wriggly food,” according to the Science Focus magazine.

However, the cookiecutter shark does use its tongue. With it, the shark can rip large chunks of flesh out of their prey.

Since this tongue does not have taste buds, sharks sense taste with the papillae lining located on their mouth and throat. These taste buds help them decide if the prey is suitable to eat or not before swallowing it.

What do sharks eat?

Most sharks are carnivorous and very efficient predators. Nonetheless, other shark species will feel satisfied with just plankton.

Since there are different shark species, they also have different feeding habits. The main factor determining the shark’s diet is the kind of prey available for them.

Also, sharks are very intelligent creatures and can adapt to their environment whenever they need to. If their favorite prey is scarce, they will eat something else.

Sadly, this has driven some sharks to eat whatever they can find. The Sharks-World website says that some sharks have been known to eat trash, oil, coal, and clothing pieces that end up in the water.

shark eating

A carnivorous shark’s favorite meal

Carnivorous sharks eat mostly fish, crustaceans, and mollusks. However, larger sharks can also eat dolphins, sea lions, seals, and other large mammals.

Sharks-World explains that some sharks do have food preferences and can be fussy. For example, hammerhead sharks love rays, and tiger sharks prefer turtles.

As we said before, the shark tongue helps the cookiecutter shark rip their prey into pieces. Nonetheless, some large shark species can swallow an entire animal at once.

Are carnivorous sharks predators?

Yes, many of the sharks are predators. They will camouflage or use ambush tactics to capture their prey.

However, sharks sometimes do not hunt alone. They will collaborate sometimes with other species to achieve more substantial loot than if they were by themselves.

Another interesting fact about carnivore sharks is their sharp teeth. They help them cut the prey’s flesh quickly and even pierce the bones.

Plankton-loving sharks

whale shark

As mentioned above, there are sharks that do not feed on other animals. Planktivore sharks will passively feed on plankton.

Some of these sharks are the whale shark, the basking shark, and the megamouth shark. They suction water and filtrate the food to get the nutrients into their bodies.

Plankton is a very small marine organism, measuring up to 1 millimeter. You may be wondering how a whale shark will feel satisfied with something so tiny.


The answer is that after the shark catches the plankton through long filaments on their body, and they wait until they accumulate a large quantity. Therefore, they are able to swallow about two kilograms of plankton every hour.

Remember our question, “do sharks have tongues?”. As you may have already guessed, planktivore sharks do not use their tongues… or even their teeth to eat!

How much do sharks eat every day?

You may be thinking that since sharks are large animals they must eat a lot, right? The truth is that they only consume about 0.5 to 3.0 percent of their weight on a daily basis.

They do not eat large quantities of food daily because since they have a deficient ability to chew, they need a lot of time to digest everything they swallowed.

Also, a shark’s digestive system is different from that of a mammal. Their intestines are very short and they have a spiral valve inside a short section.

Shark eating bait

For this reason, many sharks will not eat every day. Some eat every couple of weeks or not eat at all in months!

The shark’s taste buds always play an important role when deciding if something is food or not. This is why they will probably take a small bite first, and if it does not taste like food, they will spit it out.

This is the reason why when a shark attacks a human, it usually consists of only one bite. Sharks do not recognize the taste of humans as food.

Now, if anyone asks you “do sharks have tongues?” you will be able to give them an answer! Remember, they do have cartilage that resembles a tongue, but it is not used the same way humans use their tongues.

About The Author

Steph Copeland

I am a marine expert that has a passion for sharks and the preservation of the oceans. I would like to help people feel safe in the water so that they don’t fear sharks.