Do Fish Have Tongues

Do Fish Have Tongues? Facts You Didn’t Know

From adult amphibians to reptiles and from birds to mammals almost all animals have a basic structure called the tongue. This makes us wonder do fish have tongues.

The tongue is a structure that plays very significant roles such as tasting the food through taste buds, swallowing the food, and in some cases catching the prey as well. Yes, you heard it right tongues can help in capturing and holding the prey and we will look into this in detail later.

As expected, fish do have a tongue or a structure that is more or less like a tongue. There are certain differences between the mammalian tongue and a fish’s tongue.

So, lets’ get some answers to the queries related to a fish’s tongue.

What is the tongue?

Typically, the tongue is a muscular organ that gathers and moves the food helping in the efficient grinding of food and ultimately swallowing it. Above all tongue is the central organ of taste owing to the presence of taste buds.

What does a tongue look like in a fish?

It is clear that fish do have a tongue, but it doesn’t resemble a mammalian tongue in any aspect. Scientifically a fish’s tongue is known as Basihyal, it’s not muscular rather a bony structure.  

In fish, the tongue covers the floor of the mouth and is more like an extension of the floor of the mouth forming a fold. This fold is what is equivalent to tongue in fish.

Although the location is quite the same as that in mammals, a fish’s tongue is pretty different from that of mammals in structure as well as function.

Do Fish’s Tongues Have Taste Buds?

As we know that a mammalian tongue is loaded with taste buds. These tiny chemoreceptors can detect five different taste sensations.

Fish do not have taste buds on their tongue. It is unique as there are taste buds almost everywhere inside their mouth except on the tongue.

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In fish taste buds are located on the floor of the mouth, teeth, lips, and even on the whiskers as well. The only tongue is devoid of taste buds.

In the case of catfish, their whole body including their outer surface has taste buds scattered all over them.

Functions of Tongue in fish:

When it comes to functions, a fish’s tongue is capable of doing a lot. Although it has no role in taste, it has the following important functional specifications.


Well, the main function of the Basihyal is the protection of the ventral aorta that lies just next to the floor of the mouth. Repeated swallowing of food can damage the aorta. Aorta is a large blood vessel that transports blood.

Thus, this tongue-like structure protects the aorta from damage due to the movement of prey.

Holding and swallowing of prey:

Apart from the protection of the aorta, the tongue also helps in holding the prey and preventing it to move in the backward direction. Thus, the tongue helps in pushing the food to the back of the mouth that is equivalent to swallowing.

This is supported by a bunch of teeth arranged to direct a unidirectional movement of food to the oral cavity.

Movement of Water:

In the case of fish, the tongue assists in directing the water rich in oxygen through the gills. Thus, the majority of water is shunted through the gills due to the backward movement of the tongue.

Ever heard of teeth on the tongue?

Yup, that’s quite true when it comes to bony fishes. Some fishes have a set of teeth on their tongue or Basihyal that is not meant for chewing food.

The primary function of these teeth is to help in the movement of food down the throat or the oral cavity. The direction of the pointed end of these teeth is towards the throat thus preventing any backward movement of prey.

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So, these teeth can hold prey in a place. In mammals the teeth are meat for grinding and chewing the food, that’s not the case with fish. This mechanism is best established to the needs of the fish.

Major differences between mammalian and fish’s tongue:

     Fish’s Tongue     Mammalian Tongue
It is a bony structure.It is a muscular organ.
Lacks taste buds.Taste buds are scattered all over the surface.
No taste perception by the tongue.Efficient taste perception.
Helps in swallowing and mastication.Protects the ventral aorta.
Sometimes teeth are also found on the tongue.Teeth are not present on the tongue.
Extension of the floor of the mouth.A fold consisting of voluntary muscles.

Can fish lose its tongue?

Unfortunately, certain infectious conditions lead to the loss of the whole tongue in a fish. It is quite common, and the infectious agent is a parasite that feeds off the host’s tongue until it’s completely gone.

Once the tongue is completely removed the parasite lines up in the place of the tongue. The parasite is even visible from the outside. This leads to severe anemia in host fish with changes in gills activity. All the functions specific to a fish’s tongue are completely lost. Moreover, the ventral aorta is prone to damage as well.

Can a parasite replace a fish’s tongue?

Yes, the parasitic infestation of the tongue-eating louse (Cymothoa exigua) is one of the most severe infections seen in fish. This parasite can eat away the fish’s tongue and can line up in place of the tongue.

This crustacean once inside your fish immediately pierce the base of the Basihyal making it prone to atrophy. After a short period, the tongue eventually is discarded due to severe atrophy. This is the time when the parasite replaces the tongue.

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The good thing is despite all this your fish can still survive.

Can fish live without a tongue?

Yes, it’s affirmative that a fish can survive without a tongue. After a parasitic infection, your fish may suffer from many issues and the stress that this puts on the fish is unexplainable. Growth retardation is quite common.

Respiratory issues are most common followed by damaged gill’s structure. Moreover, the parasite feeds on the host’s blood leading to severe anemia. Immunity is greatly reduced letting the fish susceptible to many diseases.

After all, that fish can continue to live and it’s amazing.

Frequently Asked Question (FAQs):

Do Fish Have Taste Buds?

Fish do have taste buds scattered all around their mouth even on their outer surface. In catfish taste buds are located on their whiskers as well. The exception is that taste buds are absent on the tongue.

Do Goldfish Have a Tongue?

One of the most popular freshwater fish, goldfish do have tongue or Basihyal. This bony structure is sometimes visible when they open their mouth.

Do Fish Have Teeth?

Yes, all fishes have teeth, but the anatomy and location vary in different species. Sometimes these teeth are even located on the tongue. Teeth help in catching and holding the prey. Moreover, they help in swallowing the food as well.


Well, to conclude this it is positive that fishes do have tongues or structures resembling a tongue.  This discovery indicates that fish’s anatomy is pretty similar to most animals especially mammals.

The function of the tongue in fish is evolved according to their needs such as protection, swallowing and holding the prey, and helping in water movement through gills.

Moreover, there is a parasite that eats off a fish’s tongue, and it’s quite common. Fortunately, fish can live without a tongue.

Lastly, fishes do have teeth sometimes even on their tongues, fishes do have taste buds, but they are not located on the tongue but all around the mouth.

I am certain that this article answered most of your queries.

Best of luck with your fish!!!                    

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