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Muscular organ on the floor of the mouth. It is important in motions of eating, drinking, and swallowing, and its complex movements shape the sounds of speech. Its top surface consists of thousands of raised projections (papillae). The receptors of taste (taste buds) are embedded in the papillae and are sensitive to four basic flavours: sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. More specific flavours are influenced by the sense of smell. The tongue's appearance (e.g., coated or red) can give clues to disease elsewhere. Disorders of the tongue include cancer (often caused by smokeless tobacco), leukoplakia (white patches), fungal infection, and congenital disorders. Different animals use the tongue to serve varied functions; for example, frogs have an elongated tongue adapted to capturing prey, the snake's tongue collects and transfers odours to a specialized sensory structure to help locate prey, and cats use their tongues for grooming and cleaning.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on tongue, visit Britannica.com.