What makes a cat tongue so rough?

Researchers looked at a structural adaptation that helps keep cats well groomed.

Vocabulary: keratin, structure & function, Velcro, evolved, adaption
 NGSS: LS4.C: Adaptation, LS1.A: Structure and Function


Jennifer Leigh /Wikimedia Commons

It feels weird when your cat licks you, but cat tongues are effective at combing out tangles in thick fur. Using high-speed videos, a graduate student has discovered that cat tongues are lined with tiny hooks that pull through snags and straighten out a tangled coat. Amy Nordrum, from IEEE Spectrum, fills in this story.

Science Friday Segment Excerpt “Cat Tongues” 12/2/2016. (Original Segment)

Print this segment transcript.

Questions for Students

  • Cats spend 50% of their waking hours grooming! Why is grooming an adaptation in cats?
  • Even wild cats groom themselves, how do you think this benefits them?
  • Amy and Ira compare a cat’s tongue to Velcro and a hairbrush. How is a cat’s tongue like Velcro? How is it like a hairbrush? Decide which object (hairbrush or Velcro) is a structural analogy and which is a functional analogy to a cat’s tongue .
  • How were they able to collect data on the movement of a cat’s tongue? How would you do it? (Remember that any method you come up with should not harm the animal.)
  • Based on this study, what would you want to explore or investigate about the structures of a cat tongue?

Activity Suggestion

Have students find images and videos of a wide variety of tongue structures in nature. Start with this article on five weird animal tongues. Have them compare the structure and function of different tongues using the media they obtain. How do the tongues of organisms contribute to their survival?

This video gives reasons for the

[Check out this Science Friday interview on the genetics of tame animals.]