Nov
30
2016

If you’ve ever taken a close look at a feline patient’s tongue, you may have noticed the tiny, sharp “spines” on its surface. There’s a good reason for that design, new findings suggests.

Researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology concluded that a cat’s tongue is not only good at cleaning and removing fur tangles; it is also self-cleaning.

The researchers presented their findings at the 69th Annual Meeting of the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics (DFD), held Nov. 20-22, in Portland, Ore.

Using macro- and high-speed video, the researchers filmed a cat removing cat food deeply wedged into a 3D printed fur mat and observed the unique shape and flexibility of the tongue spines during grooming.

What did they learn?

"The cat’s flexible spines make it easier to clean,” said Alexis Noel, a doctoral candidate and lead author. “When not in use, the spines on a cat tongue lie nearly flat against its surface, like overlapping shingles.

“This configuration provides openings in a single direction, enabling the mat of hair around the bristles to be removed with a single finger swipe. These openings face the cat’s throat and [are] also why cats swallow their hair and end up with hairballs.

“We also discovered that the cat tongue is self-cleaning—it’s easy to remove hair beneath the spines by simply brushing the tongue from tip to end.”

The authors’ findings may have important implications for the world of soft robotics, in which researchers are still struggling to find ways for soft materials to grip surfaces.

Photo credit: © iStock/digihelion

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