Animals develop many different kinds of adaptations that help them survive in their particular environments. Sometimes animals develop long necks or long legs, and sometimes long tongues. It’s this last category that we’re looking at in this article, animals with long tongues.
Some of these long-tongued animals are very interesting. Their tongues can be even longer than their bodies. They have evolved over generations to have these long tongues that help them survive better. In most cases, it’s to simply retrieve their food.
With all that being said, let’s have a look at some examples of animals with long tongues.
15 animals with long tongues
As mentioned, the following list of animals all have unusually long tongues, but they have them for a good reason! It’s all about survival and here’s how 15 animals use their tongues each day.
Scientific family: Chamaeleonidae
Longest tongue length: 48 inches
Chameleons are one of the strangest and most interesting species on earth. One common fact about chameleons is that they can change their color to express emotions and reflect the temperature in their surroundings. They also have rotator eyes that can rotate to any possible angle and long tongues.
Their tongue is very sticky and can shoot out of their mouth at a speed of 60 miles an hour. This allows them to catch and hold prey as big as they are. Chameleons come in different sizes, so their tongue length varies depending on their body. However, it is usually one to two times their body length. The largest chameleon grows up to 27 inches and has a tongue as long as 4 feet!
2. Tube-lipped nectar bats
Scientific name: Anoura fistulata
Tongue length: 3.3 inches
The tube-lipped nectar bat has a tongue that is approximately 1.5 times longer than its body. This bat has a short body of about 2.2 inches and their tongues are 3.3 inches long. They hold the record of the mammal with the longest tongue relative to body size.
These bats use their tongue to extract nectar from flowers that are bell or tube-shaped. The prickly hair bristles on the end of their tongue allow them to mop up more nectar and pollen from the flowers.
Scientific order: Pholidota
Tongue length: 14 inches
Pangolins are the only mammals fully covered in scales, making them look like reptiles. These animals have tongues that are longer than their body and head combined. On average, pangolins are around 21 inches in body length, with tongues around 14 inches long. However, some pangolin tongues can extend over 15.5 inches!
One interesting fact is that their tongues aren’t attached to their mouth. Instead, it extends down near their pelvis and is attached to their last pair of ribs. Pangolins don’t have teeth and typically eat ants and termites. They use their long, muscular tongues that have sticky saliva to reach and catch their prey in deep holes.
Scientific genus: Jynx
Tongue length: 4 inches
Wrynecks are small birds growing an average of 6 inches in length. These birds have long, sticky tongues that can grow up to 4 inches long. Their tongues are cylindrical, sticky, and have tiny scales that help them capture prey.
These birds mainly eat ants. However, their diet also consists of moths, woodlice, spiders, beetles, and larvae. They will bury their heads in the soil to find ants or search for insects in the bark of trees.
Tongue length: 5 inches
Echidnas are toothless mammals, also known as spiny anteaters. They grow to an average of 12 to 19 inches in body length, with 2 to 3-inch snouts. Their long tongues are typically at least 5 inches long, which is about two-fifths of the length of their body.
These animals enjoy eating ants, earthworms, and termites. They can work their long, sticky tongues very quickly to slurp up their prey. Instead of teeth, they use their tongue and the front of their mouth to break up their food.
6. Green woodpeckers
Scientific name: Picus viridis
Tongue length: 3.9 inches
Green woodpeckers grow up to 12 inches, with tongues extending around 4 inches. That’s one-third of their body length! Another interesting fact is their tongue is so large inside them that it surrounds their brain and coils around their eyes and right nostril. This characteristic allows the tongue to protect their brains from any damage that may occur when these birds peck against tree trunks.
Although some woodpecker species have barbs on their tongue, the green woodpecker’s tongue is more sticky due to enlarged salivary glands. Their tongues are also flat since they are anteaters, allowing them to snatch up their prey easily.
Scientific order: Anura
Longest tongue length: 3.7 inches
Most frogs are commonly known for having long tongues that are around one-third of their body length. Every frog species ranges in size and their tongues are typically under an inch long. However, the largest living frog is the Goliath frog (Conraua goliath) that averages 11.2 inches in body size with a tongue averaging 3.7 inches.
Frog tongues are attached to the front of their mouth. They can catch prey within 0.07 milliseconds, which is even quicker than the blink of the human eye. Their tongues are also so sticky and strong that some species can hold prey about 1.4 times their weight.
8. Giant Anteaters
Scientific name: Myrmecophaga tridactyla
Tongue length: 24 inches
For land mammals, giant anteaters contain the longest tongue. With body lengths between 72 and 96 inches, their tongues averaging 24 inches measures a third of their body size. As their name suggests, the giant anteater’s main diet is ants. However, they also eat termites.
These animals open nests with their powerful claws and forelimbs before using their long sticky tongues to slurp up their prey. They can pick up almost 35.000 ants or termites at one time and can flicker out their tongues up to 150 times per minute.
9. Giant palm salamanders
Scientific name: Bolitoglossa dofleini
Tongue length: 2-3 inches
The giant palm salamander can extend its tongue nearly half the length of its body. With body lengths averaging 6 inches, they typically have tongues around 2 inches long. They can shoot out their tongues at high velocities, allowing them to grab their prey within 7 milliseconds. Their diet mainly consists of insects, termites, and flies.
These salamanders are also considered animals with one of the most powerful tongues. Their tongues shoot out at 18,000 watts of power per kilogram of muscle.
Scientific name: Okapia johnstoni
Tongue length: 14 inches
The Okapi, also known as the zebra giraffe, are herbivorous mammals with tongues averaging 12 to 14 inches long. This length allows them to eat leaves and foliage off of all branches and vines. Their tongues are also thick to protect them from thorns on branches and black to purplish in color to help prevent sunburn.
These animals have such long tongues, they can even use them for cleaning their ears and eyes!
Scientific name: Panthera tigris
Tongue length: 9 inches
Tigers are apex predators and the largest feline species worldwide and have tongues averaging 7 to 9 inches long. Their tongues have a rough surface with bristles on them, called papillae. These sharp, small bristles act as a comb when they lick their own fur. It can also help them strip off fur, feathers, skin, and meat off their prey during feeding.
Since their tongue bristles prevent tigers from lapping up water to drink, they often cup their tongues to flick water into the air when drinking. Another neat fact about tigers is they produce antiseptic saliva. Allowing them to disinfect themselves when they lick their skin or fur.
12. Sun bears
Scientific name: Helarctos malayanus
Tongue length: 10 inches
The sun bear, also known as the honey bear, gets their name from a golden crescent-like shape on their chest resembling the sun. Although one of the smallest species of bears, they also have the longest tongues averaging between 8 to 10 inches in length.
Their long tongues allow them to extract honey from beehives and find insects in tight spaces. These bears also enjoy eating berries, fruits, roots, lizards, small birds, and rodents. Sun bears are becoming endangered as their population is declining due to deforestation and poaching.
Scientific name: Giraffa
Tongue length: 21 inches
With their long necks and legs, giraffes are the tallest mammals in the world. It’s not surprising that they also have long tongues around 21 inches in length. They use their height and long tongues to their advantage when feeding by eating leaves and buds off branches other animals can’t reach.
Their tongue has also evolved to have added protection. The bluish-pink color prevents sunburn and the thick covering of papillae protects them from thorns on branches.
14. Blue whales
Scientific name: Balaenoptera musculus
Tongue length: 216 inches
Blue whales are the largest oceanic species that also have the largest and longest tongues in the world. Their tongues can grow up to 216 inches long and weigh up to 8,000 pounds; that’s the weight of an adult female African elephant!
The blue whale’s tongue helps them with filter-feeding. This means when they swallow a school of krill, they can invert their tongue to create a sac that squeezes out the water into the ocean before consuming their meal.
Scientific name: Trochilidae
Tongue length: 18 inches
Hummingbirds are small birds known for their speed and ability to dive up to 60 miles per hour. Although they have no sense of smell, they have amazing eyesight and very long tongues. The hummingbird’s tongue is around 18 inches long, even though most species are only 3 to 5 inches in body length.
These birds use their tongues to extract nectar from flowers. Their tongues have a split and small hairs lining the edge so they can catch the nectar and lick it up. Conveniently, these hairs also compress when their tongues are in their bills.