We think that, as humans, we have a highly developed gustatory modality that helps us enjoy and relish a number of dishes. Think again, as some animals have an amazing sense of taste that plays a vital role in their survival.
Did You Know?
When animals taste sweet things, it gives an indication of an easy source of energy, while bitterness could be a sign of something poisonous.
Nature has a unique way of distinguishing all creatures. Some animals possess a highly developed vision, while some have an amazing sense of smell, taste, or touch. To each his own, these senses are important for our existence and survival. Smell and taste work together in most animals. Smell attracts them and taste helps them inspect the element further.
A sense of taste helps an animal stay away from poisonous substances and ingest only nutritive food. Different taste receptors play a role in identifying or evaluating substances that an animal can eat. This AnimalSake article enlists some animals that possess gustation powers so unique, that it surpasses the tasting ability of us humans.
The most amazing sense of taste is possessed by a catfish, as it has approximately 100,000 taste receptors all over its body, including the fins, back, and tail. The concentration of taste buds is more on the long whiskers or barbels that a catfish possesses. It mostly dwells in muddy and murky waters and prefers the bottom or dark areas in water.
The visibility in these waters is extremely low, so the highly abundant taste buds help the catfish to detect minute quantities and locate the exact position of its food. Scientists have found that catfish with poorly functioning taste buds cannot feed normally. Hence, this great gustatory ability is vital for the existence and survival of the catfish.
Cows have taste buds ranging from 25,000-35,000, which give them an excellent sense of taste―about two to three times more as compared to humans. Cows, being herbivores, it is thought that, in order to help them distinguish between poisonous and non-poisonous plants, they have so many taste receptors. These taste buds help them identify toxic and non-toxic plants, and thus, help decide what is beneficial for them.
The taste buds also help discard poisonous substances. Thus, they swallow the good substances, and later, ruminate at leisure and digest the consumed food.
Rabbits possess about 17,000 taste buds which are located in the mouth and pharynx. Like humans, they too are able to differentiate between sweet, bitter, sour, and salty tastes. In the wild, they are also able to distinguish between poisonous and non-poisonous plants. However, pet rabbits may lose this ability and can be picky eaters.
Pigs have almost 15,000 taste receptors on their tongue. They are omnivores, and it has been found that they are programmed to eat almost anything that comes up in front of them. It has been seen that pigs like the savory taste more than the sweet one. Even their sense of taste is in combination with their sense of smell. The presence of so many taste receptors certainly gives them an advantage to help identify nutritious substances, and stay away from potential toxins or poisonous substances.
An octopus has about 10,000 taste receptors on each sucker. It possesses almost 200 suckers on each of its eight arms. So, imagine the sensitivity that it gains with all the suckers and taste receptors that it flaunts. These chemoreceptors combined with their highly developed sense of touch helps an octopus detect even small differences in the concentrations and dilutions of seawater.
Octopuses are able to remember the taste of the food they eat, and hence, are very selective about what they eat. Though they have a highly evolved sense of taste, touch, and vision, they are unable to hear.
Squids possess taste receptors all over their body and are more sensitive to taste than humans. This makes a squid sensitive to chemical disturbances and stimulants in the water. These taste receptors are located on the suckers and area around the mouth, and help the squid identify the edible nature of food. These receptors also direct the squid to the exact position of its prey.
The sense of taste works in close association with the sense of smell and touch, which gives them an extra advantage. Along with their highly sensitive skin, they are able to detect trace amounts of differences in their surroundings.
Taste receptors are present on their antennae, jaws, and forelimbs in bees, which help them detect the sweetness of a flower. Honeybees are able to distinguish between sweet, sour, bitter, and salty tastes; however, research is still being done as to how this happens. We know about the olfactory sensation and developed communication systems of the bees.
According to Hugh M. Robertson (an entomology professor), bees have a beneficial relationship with plants. Hence, they don’t need to guard themselves from toxins. As a result, gustatory or taste receptors are lesser in them as compared to the odorant (smell) receptors. They use their sense of smell while in search of food.
Butterflies possess chemoreceptors on their feet or tarsi. These taste receptors transfer the information regarding the food source to their brain to confirm whether the food is good or bad. If it is, only then the proboscis spreads out and secretes enzymes to dissolve the food. The liquidated form of nutrients is then ingested through the proboscis. Different receptors help distinguish between different types of food.
These chemoreceptors also play an important role while finding a host plant to lay eggs. The female will tap the plant to release juices which she tastes with special spiny structures present on her legs. If the female finds a plant suitable for her offspring and identifies the necessary chemicals in the plant leaves, only then she will lay the eggs on that particular plant.
Flies possess taste receptors on their legs. A fly, after sitting on an edible item, will judge the taste of the food with its receptor cells first. These taste receptors will determine whether the food is edible or poisonous. A sweet taste is what most flies prefer. If found edible, only then the fly will unfurl its proboscis.
At the end of the proboscis are labellar plates, which again, possess taste receptors to assess the nature of food. If the fly finds the taste to be delicious, it opens up the labellar plates to suck the food through its proboscis. The ingested food is further assessed in the pharynx as well. Research has shown that flies are fond of sweet tastes, and they deter bitter tastes.
The sense of smell and taste are interconnected in reptiles. Reptiles possess a chemically sensitive organ called Jacobson’s organ, which is thought to have a special ability to convert taste into smell to create awareness about its environment. In a way, snakes taste the air with their forked tongues. Air particles collect on the tongue and are processed by the Jacobson’s organ to locate probable mates during the mating season.
This organ helps them gather information about their prey. It is also an extra precautionary measure provided to them which helps detect predators by just flicking their tongues.
These were some of the animals that possess excellent gustative powers. However, when combined with the olfactory ability, the sense of taste can be amazing and more relishing.