The Tongue—Amazing in Design
A LITTLE piece of muscle is all it is. But what an amazing design! For the tongue can form all the sounds spoken in the hundreds of languages known to man. It is also a taster supreme, being able to differentiate between sweet and sour, hot and cold, salty and bitter in a way that brings delight to men everywhere. In fact, without it you would find it very difficult even to eat.
Yes, this amazingly versatile organ is also designed to move food around effortlessly, placing and holding it between the teeth for proper chewing and then moving it to the back of the throat to be swallowed.
If you enjoyed your food today, if the flavor made your mouth water, the tongue played a big part in your enjoyment. The tongue helps to mix saliva with the food we are enjoying, thus sparing us the possibility of stomach trouble later. It can even tell us if the food is good or bad by our sense of taste, which is located chiefly in the tongue. That is why you will see a cook tasting what is being cooked, to see if it is just right or if a little more seasoning needs to be added. Just a sip will tell the story.
Though the human tongue seems to be a rather simple piece of muscle, a closer study of it shows that it is really a rather complicated organ designed with great intelligence. It has muscles that run in different directions, and this accounts for its being exceptionally movable and pliant. Some run lengthwise, others crosswise, some vertically. This makes it possible to shorten or lengthen the tongue, make it rise or descend, turn its tip in different directions or narrow it and turn the edges upward. It is this versatility that makes it possible to move food around in the mouth, pushing it between the teeth or even finding and holding a bit of grit that might not have been noticed in the salad.
In addition to the tongue’s being covered with mucous membrane, on its surface can be found four kinds of little protrusions called papillae. For example, one kind are made up of little cone-shaped projections that cover the whole surface as well as the borders and tip of the tongue. It is these that make the tongue in the cat family so rasplike that they can easily scrape bones clean of all flesh.
Next, there is another kind that are about the size of the head of a pin. They resemble a miniature toadstool, from which they got their name (fungiform). Located mostly at the tip and sides of the tongue, they are pink in color and usually contain special taste buds.
Another kind number just seven to ten in all and are arranged across the back of the tongue, being surrounded by taste buds. They can be seen with the naked eye.
Finally, scientists speak of a fourth kind that can be found on the sides of the tongue and in the folds of the mucous membrane at the back of the tongue.
A simple piece of muscle? Far from it. The tongue is of intricate design and of great value to its owner. Besides being so sensitive to taste and heat, the tongue is more sensitive to touch than any other part of the body.
Variety of Amazing Designs
In the animal realm a wide variety of amazing designs can be found. For example, consider the forked tongue of the snake. Some persons believe that a poisonous snake bites with its flicking tongue, thereby pouring poison into its victim, but such is not the case. It uses its teeth for that purpose. Besides being forked, the tongue of a snake is narrow and very sensitive. The snake will put it out of its mouth from time to time to feel the air. Then when it touches the sense cavities or so-called Jacobson’s organ in the roof of its mouth with the tip of its tongue, the scent molecules from the air, which have stuck to the tongue, give it a sense of smell. A tongue for smelling? Yes, the snakes have it. They even have a sheath into which the tongue may be withdrawn so that it will not become damaged when not in use.
The chameleon has a specialized, telescopic tongue that is exceptionally long for its size. Patiently and slowly this little creature will approach its potential meal until it has come close enough. Then, fast as lightning, it shoots its tongue out and the insect taste-treat is stuck to it. Rather similarly, most frogs have a long, protruding tongue that they use like a flyswatter to catch insects.
Ant bears or anteaters are champions when it comes to a fast draw with the tongue. When they tear open a termite nest with their powerful claws, then, so quickly that it can hardly be seen, their tongue starts to work. Their nose is long, and the tongue comes out of the mouth like a shot from a blowgun. It is long, fast-moving, and covered with a sticky substance. So, all the anteater has to do is draw its tongue back into its mouth and the termites that have stuck to it are drawn in for a tasty meal. Similarly the Asiatic pangolin, a type of scaly anteater, has a long, wormlike tongue used to capture ants for dinner.
Birds also have remarkably designed tongues. For example, the woodpecker has a tongue with a barbed and slimy tip ideally suited for snaring and withdrawing grubs from decaying trees. Then there is the beautiful little hummingbird that uses its amazing tongue like a drinking straw! For its drinks of nectar it flies from flower to flower. Though a very small bird, some species measuring only two and a half to three inches from the tip of the bill to the tip of the tail, it is heavy enough so that frail flowers cannot hold its weight. So it hovers close by the flower, using its long, slender tongue to draw out the sweet liquid by the suction method.
The bloodsucking lamprey, an eellike fish that lives on the Mediterranean and North Atlantic coasts, has a remarkable tongue. It is a strong muscle covered with horny membrane. This the lamprey uses like a suction pump to anchor itself to rocks or attach itself to other fish to suck nourishment from them.
Vegetation eaters like the giraffe also have marvelously designed tongues. The tongue of the giraffe may be as long as twenty inches and can quickly curl around and tear off leafy material for consumption.
The prize for the biggest tongue of all must go to the whale. It has been reported that the tongue of a one-hundred-foot blue whale can weigh 6,600 pounds. In fact, the tongue of one eighty-nine-foot-long blue whale, when weighed with its roots, was about as heavy as an average-size elephant. Imagine the strength it takes to move a tongue like that!
But besides tongues for hunting, sucking, scraping and tearing, what about their use for cleaning and first aid? Do not forget the domestic cat and how enjoyably it washes itself every day with its tongue, just as most animals do. And do not cats, dogs and other animals carefully bathe and cleanse a wound with their tongues? Or if you lose a tooth, do you not find your tongue taking much interest in the matter, carefully and tenderly probing the area?
Tongue Care and Usage
Such a remarkable and necessary organ certainly deserves our attentive care, because even this resilient member of our body can be abused. Interestingly, the Encyclopædia Britannica says that chronic inflammation of the tongue may be caused by the irritation of decayed teeth or an ill-fitted plate of artificial teeth, or by excessive smoking. Since such chronic inflammation may lead to cancer, it states: “The treatment demands the removal of every source of irritation . . . Smoking must be absolutely and entirely given up . . . and everything else which is likely to be a cause of irritation must be avoided.”
Good it is, too, to avoid irritation caused by the improper use of the tongue in speech. Screaming, angry and abusive speech irritate others and bring no benefit to anyone. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” the inspired proverb tells us. (Prov. 18:21) A person can train his tongue to speak what is good and to help others, but first he must train his mind in harmony with the wisdom from the great Designer of the tongue, Jehovah God. Then our tongues can be used for promoting peace and happiness among our families and friends, all to the praise of the Creator, whose wisdom can be seen in the tongue’s amazing design.