This organ is often overlooked when discussing animals, but it’s crucial to many of them when it comes to foraging plants and preying on other animals.
In this article, we’ll be listing down animals with long tongues, and you might be surprised by what you see.
- Giant Anteaters
- Big Cats
- Tube-lipped Nectar Bats
- Komodo Dragons
- Sun Bears
- Green Woodpeckers
- Supramonte Cave Salamander
1. Giant Anteaters
Scientific name: Myrmecophaga tridactyla
The giant anteater is the animal with the longest tongue, as it can extend at least a foot and 5 inches out its mouth. There are reports of 2-foot-long tongues, but these still need verification.
Anteaters need these long tongues as they use them to browse ant and termite mounds – the tongue is sticky, and tiny insects just stick to it. The anteater then just sucks them back into its mouth.
What’s even more impressive is that the anteater can move the tongue in and out of its mouth up to 160 in a minute, which is almost three times a second!
Scientific name (genus): Giraffa
Another species with an incredibly long tongue, although not as long if you take their massive size into account, is the giraffe.
With an 18-inch-long tongue, a giraffe can easily graze the branches of the tallest trees without breaking a sweat.
As protection from sunburn, giraffes have black tongues. However, if someone asks ‘Do giraffes have the longest tongue?’ – the answer is no, they don’t. Their tongues are perfectly-sized for such a tall animal.
Scientific name (family): Chamaeleonidae
Chameleons have what’s known as ‘projectile tongues’ – long and sticky tongues that they shoot out at insects. The exact size of a chameleon’s tongue depends on the animal’s size.
Their tongue is usually twice longer than their body (excluding the tail), with smaller chameleons having longer tongues than their larger cousins.
No matter which species within the family we’re discussing, chameleons are lizards with the longest tongues, but their speed is just as impressive. They can shoot their tongue out so quickly that it reaches their target in 0.07 seconds!
Scientific name: Orycteropus afer
Aardvarks feed in a very similar way to anteaters – once they find a termite or ant mound, they start digging with their legs until they make an opening. Then, they stick their 12-inch-long tongue to bring out the insects.
Incredibly, there’s a documented case of an aardvark pulling out and eating at least 50,000 insects in a single night.
Because its way of eating requires a lot of effort and a lot of time, this African animal with a long tongue developed large ears that help them keep track of any predators.
5. Big Cats
Scientific name (genus): Panthera
When it comes to animal tongue facts, big cats have a few interesting things that deserve mentioning. Firstly, some of them have very long tongues. Tigers, for example, can grow 9-inch-long tongues.
What’s more interesting is that they also have rough tongues, just like domesticated cats. Wild big cats have arguably rougher tongues, which can even tear up small pieces of meat if they apply enough force!
Scientific name (family): Tachyglossidae
Echidnas are similar to anteaters in many ways, and their 6-inch-long tongue is just another argument for that statement.
These Australian animals with long tongues eat insects, mostly ants, and termites, with sharp and tiny spines on their tongues.
This doesn’t only help them catch their prey, but also eat it. Echidnas don’t have teeth, and they have to grind their prey against the bottom of their mouth with their mouths.
Scientific name (order): Pholidota
These mammals with long tongues can extend this organ up to 16 inches, while it’s only a fifth of an inch in diameter. These extreme lengths are more common with large pangolins than with young animals.
Just like so many other animals on this list, they stick their tongues into insect mounds and let the insects stick to their sticky tongue. Pangolin tongue is also a common ingredient in African folk medicine.
8. Tube-lipped Nectar Bat
Scientific name: Anoura fistulata
One of the youngest species on this list, as it was first described in 2005, is the bat with the longest tongue. Interestingly, it has the longest tongue out of all mammals once you take its size into account – the ratio is even larger than that of a giant anteater.
At 3.34 inches, the tube-lipped nectar bat’s tongue can be 1.5 times larger than its entire body. This bat’s tongue is so long that its base is located in the bat’s ribcage, instead of its mouth.
Scientific name (order): Anura
Not all frogs have tongues, but the ones that do can shoot it at great speeds, just like chameleons. Frogs with tongues catch insects with them, while the ones without have to catch them with their hands.
It is unknown what’s the frog with the longest tongue, as the tongue is usually 33% of the frog’s body length. So, the bigger the frog, the longer the tongue.
Scientific name: Okapia johnstoni
Okapis are related to giraffes, so it isn’t odd that they’re animals with very long tongues. Their black tongues can grow up to 11 inches, which allows them to easily browse trees for foliage. They mostly feed on tree leaves, grasses, fruits, and ferns.
Aside from eating, okapis use their long tongues for grooming – usually for their ears and eyes. This endemic species can only be found in Congo, where it’s currently deemed threatened.
11. Komodo Dragons
Scientific name: Varanus komodoensis
These reptiles with long tongues have some of the longest tongues amongst lizards. However, unlike chameleons, they use their tongues to detect, taste and smell stimuli in the air – similar to how snakes do it.
The tongue of a Komodo dragon is long, yellow, and forked. Their sense of scent is so powerful that they can detect stimuli up to 6 miles away! This makes their tongues some of the most sensitive tongues in the animal kingdom.
12. Sun Bears
Scientific name: Helarctos malayanus
Even though the sun bear is the smallest of all bear species, it’s the bear with the longest tongue that can grow up to 10 inches! It is believed that they use this incredible length to extract insects and honey during feeding.
Since they’re incredible climbers, getting to bee hives isn’t a problem for them. Aside from bees, they often feed on ants, beetles, and termites – which makes their long and sticky tongue very valuable.
They’ll often open hollow trees with their paws and stick their tongue inside – they use the same method on termite and ant mounds.
Scientific name (family): Trochilidae
These birds with long tongues use them for both eating and drinking. They use them to lap nectar, and their tongues have tubes that were specially developed for drinking.
There’s no exact tongue length, as it depends on the size of the bird. A hummingbird’s tongue is usually as long as its bill.
Impressively, a hummingbird can shove its tongue out and pull it back 12 times a second, quicker than a giant anteater!
14. Green Woodpecker
Scientific name: Picus viridis
The green woodpecker takes the title as the bird with the longest tongue, as it can grow up to 4 inches. Their tongues are so long that they can wrap them around their own heads, which they often do when they clean themselves.
They mostly eat ants, which they mostly find on the ground, quickly striking at them with their long tongues.
Even though ants are often found on trees, these birds stick to the ground where mounds are more common. The tongue’s surface is sticky, which makes the insects stick to it.
15. Supramonte Cave Salamander
Scientific name: Speleomantes supramontis
This species of salamander is endemic to Sardinia and it’s only found in caves and rocky areas. Unfortunately, it’s currently threatened by habitat loss.
This species is known for having an extremely long tongue, and it takes the crown as the amphibian with the longest tongue.
The tongue is usually extended up to 80% of the animal’s body length, which means that it’s almost 3 inches long.
Interestingly, they can shoot their tongue out in less than 20 milliseconds, which then grabs insects.
It is also the salamander with the longest tongue – the giant palm salamanders and lungless salamanders fighting for the second-longest salamander tongue at 2 inches.
Scientific name (genus): Jynx
This group of woodpeckers is known for having a very long tongue, often exceeding 3 inches in length. Unlike green woodpeckers, these birds hunt both on the ground and in the trees.
They don’t drill holes in the bark, but they’ll use their long tongue in to get all the insects on the bark and even pick them off their own wings.
These European birds with long tongues will often use their tongues to find ants under rocks. When threatened, they adopt snake-like behavior, aggressively hissing and moving their head in a snake-like pattern.