Do Turtles Have Tongues?

do turtles have tongues

The function of the tongue varies in different reptiles. Some animals, like snakes, use it as a sensory organ, some animals like frogs have it to catch their prey, and others like cats use it to keep themselves clean. The tongue is an important organ in animals mostly used for chewing, swallowing and sucking.

In humans, it is a bearer of taste buds and speech. The front tips and margins of the tongue usually touch the teeth, aiding in swallowing and speech in humans but is it the same in the case of reptiles? Reptiles like chameleons flick their long tongues to catch the insects, while snakes use their tongue to collect the chemicals from the air or ground.

You must be wondering if the turtles have a tongue or not and if they have a tongue, just like other reptiles do they use it to catch their prey, or it has some other functions? Keep reading to get your answers.

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Do turtles have a tongue?

Yes, turtles have a tongue. Turtles use their tongue for eating, breathing and luring the prey. Usually, it’s not visible because it’s fixed inside their skull and has limited movements.

Different species of turtles use their tongue for different purposes. Both aquatic and terrestrial turtles have tongues. Turtles are different from other reptiles in many ways, and when it comes to the tongue, they use it for breathing apart from eating. Let us go into detail to understand the basic functions of the turtle tongue.

What do turtles do with their tongue?

Below are some of the functions of a turtles tongue.

1. Breathing

You must be wondering how a turtle can breathe with its tongue? Yes, they do! But not all species. Only a few species of turtles can breathe with its tongue.

Some species of turtles consist of cloacal bursae. This part of their body is a group of cavities at the rear of their body. They draw in water and remove oxygen. This helps the turtle to remain underwater for a longer time. Due to this, the turtle can remain in the water for 6-7 hours at a time or even more.

The turtles that do not have cloacal bursae, like the North American common Musk turtle, consist of special buds on their tongue that facilitate them to breathe underwater. These buds are called papillae. The common musk turtles are also called “stinkpot turtles”. These turtles can stay underwater for months using their tongue even if they don’t have cloacal bursae.

The cloacal bursae can enable some species of turtles to stay underwater for a few hours, whereas the turtles that can breath

2. Eating food

Turtles don’t have teeth, so have you ever wondered how they eat or swallow food? Well, most turtles use their tongue for this process. Turtles use their tongue to chew and swallow the food. Their tongue is well suited to eat underwater because it’s difficult for them to eat food on dry land.

If you are a turtle owner, you must have noticed your turtle eating well underwater than on land. However, not all turtles use their tongue to eat food, and it entirely depends on the turtle species.

3. Luring prey

You must be wondering how a turtle can lure its prey using its tongue? Well, this process is called Lingual luring. It’s an aggressive mimicry that some turtles and snakes or reptiles opt for.

They use their tongue to do this. They stuck out their tongue, and it looked like a wiggly worm to which the fish are easily attracted, and when the fish comes closer to the turtle’s mouth, the turtles eat it.
The turtle that does this is Alligator snapping turtle. They use their tongue to lure various types of prey into their mouth.

What are the other facts about the turtle’s tongue?

Apart from breathing, eating and luring the prey, some species of turtles also use their tongue to smell. Some turtle species consist of the loose flesh under their tongue that can pick up the smell. But for this to happen, they have to swish their tounges to relocate it in the right direction.

The turtle tongue movement refrains as it’s fixed to its skull. The other reptile which has such limitations are crocodiles. The turtle’s mouth is very much like birds with a set of beaks which they use to catch their prey.

As the turtle doesn’t have teeth, they require their tongue to help move their food and swallow it. To kill the prey, they use their tongue to squish it on the roof of their mouth. Since many turtles are carnivores, Clams, crayfish and crustaceans need a hand towards their digestive system.

Most turtles species consist of sharp edges on the upper and lower jaws or beaks. The muscles in the head exert pressure which helps them bite off vegetation or carrion into bite-size pieces. The tongue moves the chunk of food to the rear of the mouth for swallowing.

Some turtles species have soft lips instead of sharp beaks. These turtles can swallow their food by sucking it into their mouths and swallowing it using the muscles of their youngest.

Related Article: Do Turtles Drink Water?

Does the Red-eared slider turtle have a tongue?

Yes, red-eared sliders turtle have a tongue.

Red sliders turtle do not have saliva. Like most aquatic turtles, they have fixed tongues and eat their food in the water. They are omnivores and eat carrion, tadpoles, crickets, mealworms, aquatic insects, wax worms and various aquatic plants.

Does a Painted turtle have a tongue?

Yes, the Painted turtle has a tongue.

Painted turtles have to eat in water because their tounges do not move freely, so the water helps them swish the food around their mouths as they grind it up with their horny plates. The horny plates are like rough sandpaper on their jaws that help them grip food.

Can turtle get any Tounge disease?

The turtle can get a disease called mouth rot. The turtle can get abrasions, ulcers, bacterial infections, parasitic infection, abscesses, mouth rot etc., inside the mouth. Mouth rot is also called a canker or infectious stomatitis. Mouth rot is a very serious infection, and if you find your turtle facing this disease, you need to consult a veterinarian. You can learn more about mouth rot in our article:


Turtles consist of the tongue fixed to the skull and have limited movements. Turtles use their tongue for breathing, luring their prey underwater and eating. The function of their tongue depends on their species. Both aquatic and terrestrial turtles consist of the tongue. Turtles do not have teeth, so they use their tongue to chew and swallow the food. The turtles also use their tongue to smell food. Some species of turtles consist of cloacal bursae, which help them stay underwater for a longer period of time. However, turtles like musk turtles do not have cloacal bursae, so they use the buds on the tongue to breathe and stay underwater for months. The Alligator snapping turtles make use of their long tongue to lure prey.