If you’ve ever been blessed enough to be licked by a cat before, you’d immediately be delighted to feel the coarse, sandpaper-like feeling along your skin. But why is it so rough?
Cats are such soft and cuddly creatures that gaze into your soul as they peacefully purr, but make no mistake — inside they are all stone cold robot ninja killers and their tongue is just one of the many tools they use to help end the lives of other living things.
According to human science, cat tongues feel like sandpaper because they are covered in papillae — backwards facing barbs that serve a few important purposes. In large cats, like lions, the papillae makes it easier for the feline to viciously rip the flesh off the bones of their prey as they feast.
Since domestic cats don’t usually hunt and eat zebras or gazelle, their papillae-covered tongues mostly serve as purpose No. 2 — grooming. Cats, who are known for their impeccable hygiene, are naturally programmed to constantly groom themselves, removing sweat, dirt, loose fur, blood and even the flesh of their prey from their fur using their rough, comb-like tongues (when there’s too much fur, it gets stuck on the tongue and the cat eats it, resulting in hairballs).
To the cat, hygiene is necessary because if they were to hunt without being clean, their unsuspecting prey might smell them before the cat get the drop on them. Hiding your scent is an essential skill that every ninja, cat or human, must learn to be successful.
Cats also use their tongues to groom other cats, get a feel for the texture of certain foods, and they even have a unique way of using their tongues to drink water by gripping the water, pulling it through the air and closing their mouths before gravity can pull it back down again.
Bonus Fun Fact: Cats don’t have as many taste buds as humans do and can’t taste anything sweet.