Monday, April 21, 2008

A tongue for all seasons

You know how rough your cat's tongue is when it licks your hand? Imagine that magnified on a grand scale with the tongue of a lion! Jake, our 17-year-old male lion went under anesthetic last week to get a full physical exam. Our veterinary health team gave him the once over to see how this elderly fellow was doing (they generally can live up to about 20 years in captivity and around 16 in the wild). One of the amazing aspects that one sees are the rows and rows of hooked appendages on their tongue. Called papillae, they are located at the tongue’s center. Papillae form backward-facing hooks containing large amounts of keratin, the same material found in human fingernails. These hooks provide the abrasiveness a cat needs for self-grooming. The strength of these hooks also helps a cat hold food or struggle with prey and are great for licking meat off the bone.

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