Why Do Some Animals Have Blue Tongues?

giraffe tongue
Nagel Photography/Shutterstock

I’ve always heard that giraffes had blue tongues, and being a frequent visitor of the giraffe feeding at Lion Country Safari in Loxahatchee, Fla., I was pleased to have had the opportunity to see one up close — though giraffe’s tongues have more of a gray hue than being truly bright blue.

Lizard Tongues

One animal with a startlingly bright blue tongue? The aptly named blue-tongue skink, native of Australia and on display in many zoos across the country. The blue-tongue skink is actually a type of lizard and it sticks out its blue tongue when threatened to scare away predators.

There are a number of lizards with blue tongues, all found in Australia, all thought to have the blue tongue as a means of protection against predators. Just to name a few: The Eastern blue tongue lizard, the pygmy blue tongue lizard, and the bob-tailed blue tongue lizard. Interesting fun fact? Like other lizards, blue tongue lizards can smell through their tongues, which explain why they stick them out so much (though that still doesn’t explain why Michael Jordan always stuck out his tongue.).

Others With Blue Tongues

Some believe that giraffes have blue tongues to scare away predators too, but that answer doesn’t make much sense to me. Being an avid watcher of the Discovery Channel, I can tell you that a lion about to pounce on an unknowing giraffe doesn’t really get a good look at its tongue before it makes the kill. So why do giraffes have blue tongues? Some say that it provides sun protection for their tongues, since they don’t get much shade up there above the trees — a great answer for why giraffes have blue tongues, but again not an adequate explanation for why okapi (the giraffe’s cousin with shorter necks) have blue tongues too. I can tell you with authority that both okapis’ and giraffes’ tongues are absurdly long, like 20 inches long, like long enough to wrap its tongue around a large leaf of lettuce and still touch your hand at the end of it.

chow chow with blue tongue

Speaking of which, the giraffe feeding at the zoo calls to mind one of the many moments when as a parent, you just have to suck it up and pretend to be brave so your preschooler doesn’t end up being a scaredy-cat just like you. For me, that ranks up there with things like the petting zoo (I hate goats) and picking up lizards in your bathroom and letting them go in your backyard (I hate lizards). All things you do in front of your kids but would never do if you were alone (and frankly, an adult alone in the petting zoo would be kind of weird anyway).

Another animal with a blue tongue is the Chow-Chow dog, a sturdy, squarely built dog from China. It’s not known why these dogs have blue tongues, but it is known that Sigmund Freud owned a Chow-Chow himself, and was known to bring him to therapy sessions with him since he believed that dogs had a keen sense when it came to knowing people. I’m just full of fun facts today, aren’t I? There you have it, folks. Why some animals have blue tongues and their (in some cases, lack of) explanation.