Do Turtles Have Tongues?

It’s got to be one of the most obscure questons on the internet – even these days… 

In all seriousness though, you might have some legitimate questions about turtle anatomy – and this is one of them.

Do turtles have tongues? Yes, both aquatic and land turtle species have toungues, However you won’t see them sticking their tongue out because physically, they cant. They use their tongue for eating and breathing. 

Plus, you should know they don’t use their tongues like other reptiles and amphibians.

Here’s why…

Turtle Tongue Facts

A turtle’s tongue is not just an evolutionary redundant part of its anatomy. 

Instead, they use their tongue for eating, as you would logically log expect, but you’re less likely to guess that they use it for respiration.

Yes, that’s right – breathing.

Also, since they can’t stick their tongues out, water-dwelling turtles don’t catch any food with it.

Really, when it comes to eating, their tongues are basically just an aid for swallowing.

In fact, when aquatic turtles do leave their ocean world and move onto dry land, any food they find will be very difficult to eat.

That’s because their tongues are best suited for eating their food in the water.

So they usually end up dragging what they find back into the ocean to eat it.

Yet, not all turtles actually eat with their tongues.

And, not all turtles can breathe with their tongues…

Some species, for example, have something called cloacal bursae.

This part of their body is a group of cavities at the rear of their body. 

They draw in water and remove oxygen so that the turtle can remain underwater for long periods.

It’s quite common for them to remain submerged for 6 to 7 hours at a time.

But then there’s the North American common musk turtle that has special buds on their tongue, enabling them to breathe underwater.

We should note that this species resides in freshwater and the adults spend most of their lives underwater.

It’s only really the juveniles that occasionally venture onto land to find food.

While the cloacal bursae turtles can remain underwater for a good few hours, turtles that breathe with their tongues can stay submerged for months at a time!

Just out of interest, another name for the North American common musk turtle is the “stinkpot turtle”.

Why? Well, the “musk” name isn’t referring to your dad’s favorite cheap aftershave. 

Instead, the “stinkpot” and “musk” names come from the fact that these litter critters can release a very foul odor from scent glands that they have around the edge of their shell. 

Did we say that they don’t use their tongues to catch food?

There is an exception with the alligator snapping turtle. They use their long tongue as a camouflaged lure to entice various types of prey into their mouths.

And as you can see,

these are quite the intimidating terrestrial type of turtle – don’t you think?

Furthermore, the alligator snapping turtle’s tongue can grow to lengths of 2.5 feet! Plus, it can weigh as much as 200 pounds! And, it’s been known for its powerful snap to even tear off fingers! We wouldn’t want to meet this critter in a dark alley.

But you might be wondering…

How does a turtle lure prey into its mouth using only its tongue? It’s hard to picture right?

The process has a special name – lingual luring. It’s a form of aggressive mimicry that some snakes do as well as turtles.

Also read ->Can Snakes and Turtles Live Together

The idea is the tongue, when stuck out, looks like a wriggly little worm.

Fish are obviously attracted to this potentially delicious and easy looking snack, but when they come close enough the alligator snapping turtle does what it does best!

So, what have we learned so far?

  • Some turtles breathe through their rear using cloacal bursae 
  • Other’s breathe through their tongue – like the North American musk turtle
  • Many use their tongues to help them swallow food
  • At least one species uses its tongue to lure food into its mouth

So what else do turtles do with their tongues? Yes, there’s more…

Apart from all the above mentioned, turtles can also use their tongues to smell! OK, well not their tongue per se, but many have a loose type of flesh under their tongue that can pick up scents.

But, for the scented air to get to this location, they have to kind swish their tongues about to waft it in the right direction.

Now here’s a strange fact…

Unlike other reptilians, a turtle’s tongue is fixed solidly into its skull.

This explains why the movement of their tongue is rather limited, and as well why most can’t poke it out. 

Interestingly, the only other reptiles that have these sorts of limitations are crocodiles.

Which makes sense because we’ve never seen a crocodile sticking his tongue out at us.

So let’s get back to swallowing…

Now it is believed that prehistoric turtles had teeth.

Yet, it seems most likely, if Darwinian theory is correct, that turtles didn’t need gnashers anymore to survive.

However, without teeth, they need their tongue to help move their food around and swallow. 

And since many turtles are carnivores, crayfish, clams, and other crustaceans need a helping hand towards a turtle’s digestive system.

Plus, to kill their prey, or at least to stop it wriggling, they tend to use their tongue to squish it on the roof of their mouth.

However, it must be said that turtles that are more inclined to eat plants do have a flatter and broader type of beak compared to the carnivorous types. This is so that they can mash their food into a more palatable form to swallow. 

Also, most reptiles technically do have at least one tooth at one point in their life.

They have what is called an “egg tooth”.

This is only present when the reptiles are born as they need it to cut and hammer to free themselves from their egg.

Conclusion

We bet you didn’t think there was so much to learn about turtle tongues, but this rabbit hole goes pretty deep! 

A turtle’s tongue is clearly very much an important part of its anatomy.

Whether it’s swallowing food, breathing, or luring in prey, a turtle’s tongue is a busy little thing. 

And as a random end to this article, we’ll leave you with this bonus fact…

Turtles are widely considered reptilian creatures. However, they are actually more closely related to birds than snakes or lizards! 

Sources:

  1. https://anatomypubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ar.21185 
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lingual_luring 
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Egg_tooth 

Also read

Do Turtles Sleep?

Can Turtles Jump?

Do Turtles Fart?

 

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