Both alligators and crocodiles have tongues. However, they are not always visible. Unlike other reptiles like snakes and lizards, crocs and alligators do not rely on their tongues to smell the air.
Crocodiles cannot stick out their tongues, but alligators can. What that means is that their tongues cannot extend out of their mouths. Their tongues are also as long as their snout—big crocs and gators can have tongues as long as two feet!
Why can Crocodiles Not Stick Their Tongues Out
Crocodiles have a membrane in their mouth that holds the tongue. The membrane keeps the tongue at the roof of the mouth. Because of this, it is not physically possible to move the tongue out.
From an evolutionary standpoint, it is good for crocodiles because they need to open and close their jaws really quickly. If they did not have this membrane, they were likely to bite their own tongue. It would be bad for the crocs, as they hunt with such bite force to secure their prey in their mouths.
When crocodiles bite, they can produce up to 3,700 pounds per square inch of force. If their tongues were sticking out, they would certainly chop it off.
Alligators are different. They can stick out their tongues, not that they have to, but because they did not evolve to have a membrane that holds their tongues in place. At the back of its tongue is a palatal valve that closes if the gator is underwater.
Related Article: Alligators and Crocodiles Have Scales?
How Long is an Alligator’s Tongue?
An alligator’s tongue can grow up to two feet long—the same size as their snouts. The tongue runs the full length of the jaw.
Since alligators spend most of their time underwater, they evolved in a way that helps them avoid getting fluid in their stomachs or lungs.
Although crocodiles spend much of their day underwater, they are considered aquatic reptiles and not amphibians.
The way to do this is through the palatal valve that is connected to the back of the tongue. When they are underwater, they can close this valve and thus block water from getting through the trachea.
Once the valve is closed, the alligator can open its mouth underwater and snap on a prey, without having to worry about water getting in its throat. The valve, which is part of the tongue, is what acts as a seal.
What is the Purpose of a Crocodile’s Tongue?
A crocodile’s tongue has salt glands. Pretty much, it is the human’s equivalent of a kidney. The function of the salt gland is to excrete salt. It is why crocodiles can stay in saline water for long periods of time.
The kidneys of a crocodile are not as efficient as the kidneys of humans. Crocodiles also have thick, resistant skin, which means that they cannot excrete salt effectively through it. Humans, on the other hand, excrete salt through sweat.
Without the salt glands in a crocodile’s tongue, the crocodile would suffer from dehydration—even if it were underwater.
Read More: Can Crocodiles Breathe Underwater?
Can Humans Eat an Alligator’s Tongue?
Some cultures eat alligator tongue. Alligator meat is high in protein and low in fat.
In the United States, there are many alligator farmers, and they do this to harvest both meat and skin. In other countries, they farm crocodiles, not alligators.
Alligator meat is good for humans because it has high protein but is low on fat. It is unlike beef that is rich in cholesterol.
What Does an Alligator Tongue Taste Like?
Foodies say that alligator tongue tastes like chicken. Probably because it has so little fat in it. Some say there is mild fishiness. Depending on how the tongue was prepared, it can be chewy.
Alligator meat is expensive—they are carnivores, and farmers have to feed them meat. Many farmers use rotten meat as food for the gators, which is fine. They do not easily get diseases like many animals do.
The crocodile tongue, however, has a surprising taste. It also has a different meat quality on both the front and back. The surface seems fatty, but then it really feels like hard gelatin, not like the typical meat of cows, pigs, and chickens.
Crocodile tongue has a mild flavor, not like beef. The curious thing is that it is pink in color, not white, so one would expect that it has a better flavor. Both alligator and crocodile tongue meat are versatile. They can be a good alternative to typical meat.
Do Alligators and Crocodiles Have Taste Buds?
Alligators and crocodiles do have taste buds. They use them to test whether whatever they bite is food or not. Their taste buds are found on the upper palate of the tongue.
There is not much study done on crocodiles and alligators, but there is one particular examination of the sensory structures of the American Alligator.
Because of this, the location and distribution of sensory structures of crocs and gators are not really that understood. However, the study indicates that in alligators, these taste buds are in the upper palate of the tongue.
Juvenile alligators, especially hatchlings, have larger papillae than adults. It is the papillae in the tongue that houses the mechano-receptive or chemosensory structures, or what people call taste buds.
In sub-adults, these papillae are smaller, and the theory is that adult alligators have degenerated taste buds. As such, scientists have a hypothesis that taste buds shift in function—from prey detection in hatchlings to merely manipulating prey in adults.
In essence, the scientists who conducted the study say that crocodiles’ taste buds are not exactly for tasting as humans need it—they are merely there to help them understand where the prey is in their mouth.
Crocodiles and alligators have tongues, but not both of them have exactly similar functions.
Crocodiles have salt glands in their tongues, which help them excrete salt. It is why crocodiles can stay in saline water for a long time—some of them even travel through the oceans.
Alligator tongues are connected to a palate valve. They use this muscle to close the valve when they are underwater. As such, they can open their mouth underwater to bite but not let water in. Then, they surface and swallow the prey.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.