Chickens are fascinating creatures. Not only do they have lovely plumage and personalities, they also have anatomy unlike our own. While you may not often consider the finer details of their biology, exploring the inner workings of chickens can provide you with some insights. For example, do chickens have tongues? Let’s find out.
Chicken Anatomy: About Chicken Tongues
So, the answer to the all important question is yes, chickens do have tongues. Not only that, tongues have a purpose. Tongues are rarely the focus when people are looking at chicken biology. However, it is important to recognize that chickens have tongues that do not look like a mammal’s. A chicken’s tongue is not easily visible, because it is small, triangular, and discreetly nestled within the beak.
If you do get a good look, you may also notice that the texture of the tongue is a bit like sandpaper — like a cat’s tongue. Furthermore, chicken tongues are usually pale pink. However, your chicken’s tongue may be a different color but will often match the beak or the rest of the mouth.
What is the Nail Tip on a Chicken’s Tongue?
Another unique feature of the chicken’s tongue is the nail tip, also known as the lingual nail. This specialized feature owes its existence to the keratinization process, where keratin, a crucial protein in cellular structures like nails and feathers, takes center stage.
Functioning akin to a culinary tool, the chicken’s lingual nail showcases its prowess as a versatile “spoon.” With finesse, it adeptly collects feeds and treats from the ground, orchestrating a seamless transfer into the beak. This ingenious adaptation not only facilitates the consumption of larger quantities of food but also economizes effort by enabling efficient food gathering.
The Multi-Purpose Function of Chicken Tongues
Despite its inconspicuous nature, a chicken’s tongue serves several vital functions that contribute to its survival and interactions within its environment:
Similar to humans, chickens utilize their tongues to discern different flavors in their food. While their taste buds are distributed along their throats and beaks, the tongue remains an essential instrument for detecting and distinguishing various tastes within their diet.
Interestingly, chickens do not have as many taste buds as people do. Humans have around 8,000 to 10,000 buds. Chickens have closer to 300. Not only that, but they also taste their food differently. While your tongue is riddled with spice and sweet receptors, chickens do not taste as much. They know when something is delicious, though, which may explain why they develop favorite foods!
As you may know, chickens are very expressive. They can utilize a variety of diverse vocalizations to convey how they feel. For example, chickens may call out when they sense danger. Other times, they may trill or warble when they are happy, sad, or hungry. Interestingly, the tongue is used to form and shape these various vocalizations.
One of the times you are most likely to spot your chicken’s tongue is when a rooster emits a “cock-a-doodle-doo.” During this iconic call, the tongue slightly protrudes and emerges from the bottom of the beak, an intriguing occurrence that often goes unnoticed due to the excitement of the crowing spectacle.
Chickens are renowned for their adept foraging skills, and their tongues contribute to this talent. While their beaks serve as their primary tools for pecking at insects, worms, and plants, the tongue assists in manipulating the food within their mouths. Equipped with a rigid structure known as the lingual nail at its tip, the tongue aids in scooping up food and pellets from the ground. The presence of tiny lateral barbs facilitates the movement of food toward the back of the throat.
Using a Chicken’s Tongue as a Health Indicator
Beyond its functional roles, a chicken’s tongue serves as a valuable health barometer. Among the conditions that leave their mark on the tongue’s appearance, two stand out: Fowlpox and Black Tongue.
Here’s some more information about these two ailments:
This viral infection triggers the development of crusty lesions on a chicken’s unfeathered areas, including the mouth and upper gastrointestinal tract. The tongue may bear these lesions, offering a visual indicator of the disease. While there’s no direct treatment for Fowlpox, prevention through vaccination is key, and affected chickens usually recover within a few weeks. Quarantine measures coupled with coop hygiene can contain its spread.
A niacin deficiency can lead to the intriguing phenomenon of “Black Tongue.” Niacin, a critical nutrient, is essential for a chicken’s health. Its absence results in a darkening of the tongue, acting as an alert for inadequate nutrition. Commercial feeds often contain niacin, but rescuing a bird with this deficiency requires adding niacin-rich foods like beets, fish, and sunflower seeds to their diet.
Monitoring the tongue’s color aids in addressing nutritional imbalances promptly.
If you own chickens, you can observe the condition of their tongue alongside any other visible signs, to discern health issues. Should you notice anything wrong with your chicken’s tongue, consider bringing them to an avian veterinarian as soon as possible.
How Long Is a Chicken’s Tongue?
The size of a chicken’s tongue is modest, consistent with their compact beak. On average, a chicken’s tongue measures approximately 2.3 centimeters (or around 0.9 inches) in length. This compact size aligns with their specialized beak structure and their need for precise movements while pecking, foraging, and vocalizing.
Why Do Chickens Have Tongues But No Teeth?
So, if chickens have tongues, why do they not have any teeth? As you may be aware, chickens do not have tongues like a mammal, because they have adapted to eat and digest their food differently. Chickens do need tongues, but they have a gizzard to grind their food and beaks to also make food more manageable.
So, here is how it works: when a chicken eats, it picks up food with its beak then uses its tongue to help guide the food into the crop. The crop is known as the first stomach, where food is held until the chicken is ready to digest the day’s worth of food. In the crop, the food becomes coated with digestive enzymes, but it is not until the food is moved into the gizzard that it is “digested” mechanically.
What is Beyond the Tongue?
Beyond the realm of the tongue and teeth, other intriguing structures within a chicken’s mouth play crucial roles in their respiratory system. The choanal slit and glottis are two such components that contribute to the bird’s ability to breathe and consume food simultaneously. The glottis, positioned at the base of the tongue, functions as a gateway, closing when food passes to prevent entry into the windpipe. Simultaneously, the choanal slit supports the glottis, allowing air passage from the nasal cavity into the trachea when the chicken’s mouth is closed.
Now You Know More About Chicken Tongues
Do chickens have tongues? The answer is yes! Their tongues, while often overlooked, are multifunctional tools that contribute to their survival, communication, and overall well-being. Additionally, the absence of teeth highlights the unique adaptations chickens have developed to process their food effectively. Now that you know, keep a look out whenever your chicken’s vocalize to see if you can spot their tongue.
Valerie has been content writing since 2016 for websites and companies all around the world. A traveler, dancer, martial artist, Valerie loves gathering experiences and wisdom. Her travels have taken her to over 20 countries, and she hopes to see more of the world soon.