Science Determines Cat Tongues Are Actually Efficient Hairbrushes

The rough surface keeps all that cat hair in order.

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Brushing is the secret to a gorgeous coat.  Via  torbakhopper/Flickr
Brushing is the secret to a gorgeous coat. Via torbakhopper/Flickr

Cats — they always look good. How is it that they are super styled at every moment?

Researchers at Georgia Tech have determined that cats’ tongues are actually hairbrushes that detangle and clean better than any over-the-counter styling tool, The Washington Post reports.

Although people often believe that the cat tongue surface is akin to sandpaper, researchers discovered that cat tongues are covered in tiny, backward-facing spines that are shaped like claws and are made of the same material as fingernails, keratin.


“When the tongue glides over fur, the hooks are able to lock onto tangles and snags,” said lead author Alexis Noel, a PhD candidate in mechanical engineering who presented her research at a physics conference this month.

“As the snags pull on the hook, the hook rotates, slowly teasing the knot apart,” Noel continued. “Much like claws, the front of the spine is curved and hook-like. So when it encounters a tangle, it is able to maintain contact, unlike a standard hairbrush bristle, which would bend and let the tangle slide off the top.”

The rough pink tongues with spiky surfaces get utilized pretty often; cats can spend half of their awake hours grooming. But they don’t just groom for looks. Their tongues remove fleas and dirt, spread body oils and improve circulation, researchers found.

This close-up of a cat's tongue shows the claw-like spines, which lie flat when they’re not in lick mode. Via Alexis Noel/The Washington Post

This close-up of a cat’s tongue shows the claw-like spines, which lie flat when they’re not in lick mode. Via Alexis Noel/The Washington Post

Researchers created a 3-D model to illustrate the tongue’s action. In a “single grooming sweep,” they wrote, a cat tongue moves in four directions, helping the tongue essentially act as a flexible comb that adapts to the knots it encounters.

So this is the secret to their looks. We can’t hate them because they’re beautiful. It’s only natural.

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  • i have four birmans two chocolate and two lilac two chocolate are both 19 the lilacs one is a year old the other is 2 years old they all sleep together thernames are beanie violet whiskers and lady

    donald prochot December 6, 2016 6:42 am Reply

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