Did you know that according to the National Institute of Health, the average adult has between 2,000 and 4,000 taste buds? That number may seem like a lot, but it is small compared to the animal with the most. That’s because this creature’s taste buds go beyond its mouth and extend all over its body.
Catfish, those large fish named for their feline-like whiskers, typically have more than 100,000 taste buds. According to Woodland Park Zoo, some larger catfish can have as many as 175,000.
Those little taste buds are sensory organs formed by cells that detect the molecules that constitute flavor. They are located all over the catfish’s body but are most concentrated on the four pairs of whiskers surrounding its mouth. These whiskers are called barbels, and they act as antennas. Along with the thousands of buds along their body, the whiskers allow the fish to detect when food is nearby and pinpoint its exact location.
As bottom-dwelling fish that prefer to live in muddy, murky waters, catfish have adapted to finding prey in the dark. But, although catfish have sight, they don’t need it to hunt down their food, thanks to their tastebuds.
Having an abundance of taste buds increases an animal’s ability to detect even trace amounts of food. For example, a highly developed sense of taste is critical for catfish, which do their hunting where visibility is low. Scientists have found that although catfish can catch their prey without visual cues, catfish without functioning taste buds cannot feed easily.
As for the animal with the fewest taste buds— the chicken clocks with only about 24.