Chicken spend much of their day beaks to the ground, foraging for bugs and worms. It’s not often we get the chance to look inside their mouths therefore it’s no wonder many people have no idea what’s behind a beak.
Let’s delve inside a chicken’s mouth and answer a common question, “Do chickens have tongues?”
Yes, chickens do have tongues and though tiny, they have an important role. Without tongues, chickens would not be able to eat very well. It may be small, but a chicken’s tongue is a vital part of its anatomy. A particulalry interesting part of a chicken’s tongue is the lingual nail. We explain why.
What a chicken’s tongue looks like
To actually view a chicken’s tongue, you need to get up close and personal. Be careful not to lose your eye! Don’t expect to see a chicken panting with its tongue lolling out of its mouth on a hot day.
Careful inspection will reveal that a chicken’s tongue is a little bit shorter than the cavity within its lower beak. It sits perfectly in that space and has a pointed tip.
It’s unlikely a chicken will allow you to touch its tongue to confirm this, but the texture of the surface has the appearance of very fine sandpaper as it is covered in tiny barbs, just like those on a cat’s tongue.
Tongue color varies from one breed of chicken to another but, as a rule, matches the rest of the inside of the bird’s mouth.
Why a chicken needs a tongue
For chickens, tongues have several functions. They allow them to taste things they eat, manipulate food, form sounds, and lap up water.
A chickens tongue, like ours, contains taste buds. They don’t have as many as us but they can still taste how edible something is.
A chicken’s sense of taste is quite different from ours. They can distinguish sweetness but not spiciness. This means a chicken can quite easily eat things like chili peppers without noticing their spicy heat and will love sweet bell peppers.
Eating and swallowing
Whilst a chicken’s beak is the perfect tool for pecking up food, it uses its tongue to push food to the back of its throat from where it is swallowed into their gizzard (first stomach). This is where those little barbs we mentioned earlier come in handy.
A chicken’s tongue is too short to extend from its beak, so you won’t see it lolling out of its mouth or licking food before it picks it up.
A chicken does not use its tongue to lap up water like certain animals. It also don’t draw water up by sucking.
When it takes a drink, a chicken rapidly opens and closes its mouth to trap water and then tilts its beak skywards to allow the water to trickle into its throat and then stomach.
Did you know a chicken has a pair of holes in the roof of its mouth that links to its nasal passages, just like we do? The technical name for these is the choana and as a chicken intakes water they close to prevent water from escaping through its nose.
A chicken’s tongue helps it to form limited sounds but it is too small and inflexible to allow for a wide range of noises. You could never teach a chicken to talk like a parrot!
The lingual nail
The lingual nail can be found at the tip of a chicken’s tongue. It is a strong and hard keratinization of the epithelium (tissue that lines the outer surface of the tongue.) This little structure is flexible enough that it can be used as a spoon for lifting grains.
In case you’re wondering, keratinization is the name of the process whereby epithelial cells become filled with keratin (structural proteins) to form structures such as skin, nails, and feathers.
Chicken tongue problems
Like cats, chickens are very good at hiding signs of illness. So, can you tell anything about their health by inspecting their tongues?
You may notice your chicken developing a black tongue if it is deficient in Niacin (vitamin B3). Ensuring your chickens receive enough of this vitamin should correct this.
Do Chickens have tongues? The answer
Just like many other creatures, chickens have tongues. They are small yet invaluable when it comes to helping chickens eat. There’s a little spoon-like structure at the tip known as the lingual nail which helps them scoop up foods such as grains.
Don’t worry, a chicken will never lick you to death like a dog – its tongue is not long enough. I’d be more concerned about a peck from that sharp little beak.
Look out for our chicken coop review in the very near future.
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dummies.com: The digestive system of a chicken