How do sharks manage to swallow without tongues?

Science writer Stuart Blackman discusses the unique swallowing techniques of sharks.

Indonesian speckled carpetshark in Indonesia. © Borat Furlan/Getty

Tongues have many functions – making sounds, tasting and manipulating food, and swallowing. Sharks are unusual among vertebrates in that they completely lack these handy organs.

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Sharks can slosh water around in their mouths to manipulate food to some extent, but swallowing is another matter. They may compensate by using the muscles of their pectoral girdle – the equivalent of our shoulders – that supports and powers the anterior ns during swimming.

Research on white-spotted bamboo sharks has shown that a backwards shrug of the shoulders creates the suction required to draw food down into the digestive tract.

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