Why the Inside of a Camel's Mouth Looks Like a Sarlacc Pit

iStock.com/BlackAperture
iStock.com/BlackAperture

If you can get over the whole spitting thing, camels are pretty cute—at least until they open up their mouths. It's like staring into the Sarlacc pit from Return of the Jedi. What are those little fleshy things? What purpose do they serve? What is going on here?

The things in the camel's mouth are oral papillae, and they're totally normal, says Luis Padilla, Director of Animal Health at the St. Louis Zoo. "Papillae are projections or raised structures found in different parts of the mouth, internal cheeks, and tongues of some species," he says. "There are many kinds of papillae. Most have simply a mechanical function, but some have a sensory function, either positional sensation or they may have taste buds on them. In ruminants, the ones on the cheek and esophagus can be extremely large, as what you see in the picture." 

When the papillae's function is purely mechanical, Padilla says, they're usually cone- or triangular-shaped, and work in conjunction with the tongue and the muscles of the mouth to help manipulate food in one direction, typically toward the stomach (which means that a camel's mouth has more in common with the Sarlacc pit than just looks!). Camels need those big papillae because of what they're eating. "Swallowing chewed leaves and sticks without some sort of mechanical assistance can be hard," Padilla says. "The papillae are sort of firm—they can be partially keratinized—and can feel almost like plastic. In the areas where they are keratinized, the papillae protect the cheek and mouth from getting scratched, abraded, poked, perforated, or injured." Though all camelids have papillae, size and shape can vary, and they can be affected by the animals' health, according to Padilla. "Blunting of the papillae or ulcerated papillae are signs of certain disease conditions," he says.

Many different kinds of animals have papillae, including humans. "There are lots of tiny papillae in the human mouth, especially on the tongue," Padilla says. "Humans and most primates do not have papillae as big as camels’ or other ruminants’. Because of our masticatory adaptations and diet, we don’t really need them to keep food flowing in one direction on the lining of our cheek or esophagus." (Also important to note: "Taste buds sit on top of a specialized kind of papilla," Padilla says, "but not all papillae are taste buds.")

But look inside the mouths of many fish-eating birds, reptiles, and fish, and you'll find varying types of papillae. "There are actually about 10 to 15 types of papillae based on their shape, location, and function," Padilla says. "These papillae are so large and elaborate in some species—like penguins or sea turtles—that once you put something in their throat, it can be sort of difficult to pull it back." And they're not just found in the mouth; Padilla says papillae can be found in some other parts of the gastrointestinal system, including the stomach, esophagus, and rumen of certain species; depending on the animal, and the location of the papillae, proportions and firmness vary. Sea turtles, for example, have pretty soft papillae.

Back to camels, though—there's one more thing Padilla wants to point out about that mouth. "In some of the photos [on the Internet], you see the really impressive canine teeth of some male camels," he says. "These can be pretty dangerous."

The Tower of London Welcomes New Baby Ravens for the First Time in 30 Years

Some of the baby ravens born at the Tower of London
Some of the baby ravens born at the Tower of London
Tower of London Twitter (screenshot)

There are some new residents at the Tower of London. They're only about 11 inches tall, are very noisy, and eat rats for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Fortunately, they're also adorable—not to mention protected by legend.

On May 17, the Tower of London announced that their breeding pair of ravens, Huginn and Muninn, had welcomed four healthy chicks, the first born at the Tower since 1989. The ravens are part of an unkindness that's been located at the Tower for centuries as a sort of protective asset. According to legend, the Tower must always have ravens, or both the Tower and the kingdom will fall. It's not exactly clear when the legend began, but according to the Tower, Charles II decreed there must always be six ravens present.

Huginn and Muninn are newer additions, having arrived at the Tower in late 2018, and they weren't expected to breed this spring. So it was a surprise in mid-April when the devoted Tower Ravenmaster, Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife, noticed something exciting going on. "My suspicions were first piqued that we might have a chance of baby chicks when the parents built a huge nest suddenly overnight and then almost immediately the female bird started to sit on it," Skaife said in a Tower press release. On April 23, Skaife noticed the birds flying to the nest with food, but it was only this week he was able to get close enough to see the four healthy chicks. The sight delighted him: "Having worked with the ravens here at the Tower for the last 13 years and getting to know each of them, I feel like a proud father!"

The chicks have grown quickly, already quadrupling in size since they were born, and eat a diet of quail, rats, and mice the Ravenmaster provides. The raven parents have an egalitarian feeding arrangement: Huginn, the male, preps the food and passes it to Muninn, the female, who feeds it to her tiny chicks.

The plan is for one of the chicks to stay at the Tower and join the rest of the ravens there. "As the ravens started to hatch on the 23 April, St. George’s Day, the raven that will be staying at the Tower will be called George or Georgina in honor of the occasion," the Tower explained in a press release. According to The Telegraph, the breeding program at the Tower kicked off in response to a decline in the number of legal raven breeders in the UK.

The last raven chick born at the Tower was Ronald Raven, born May 1, 1989. In his 2018 book, The Ravenmaster: My Life with the Ravens at the Tower of London, Skaife wrote that "a baby raven looks a bit like a grotesque miniature gargoyle, but then you see them grow and develop ... It really is wonderful."

The baby ravens born at the Tower of London in 2019
The baby ravens born at the Tower of London in 2019 making some noise
Yeoman Warder Chris Skaife

Dozens of Donkeys, Mini-Donkeys, and Baby Donkeys Are Looking for New Homes

iStock.com/huggy1
iStock.com/huggy1

Cats and dogs aren't the only rescue animals that need permanent homes. At the Humane Society of North Texas (HSNT), there are over 60 donkeys, miniature donkeys, baby donkeys, and Thoroughbred horses up for adoption, the Cleburne Times-Review reports.

Many of the equines at HSNT's ranch in Joshua, Texas came from owners who had to give them up, and others were transferred from different animal rescue groups. As part of the ASPCA’s Help A Horse Home Challenge, HSNT is hosting events to help find new homes for its horses and donkeys.

Between April 26 and June 30 this year, the ASPCA is challenging equine organizations to adopt out as many animals as they can. The groups that see the biggest increases in adoptions between this year and last year's Help A Horse Home Challenge will share $150,000 in grant funding. On May 18 and June 8, HSNT is holding open houses at its ranch for anyone interested in adopting an animal. The events will also be used as opportunities to educate the public about the demands of equine ownership.

If you're not free to swing by one of HSNT's open houses, you can still apply to adopt a horse or donkey. Interested owners can fill out and submit this form [PDF] to equine@hsnt.org. And if you'd like to spend time with baby and mini-donkeys without taking one home, HSNT is also looking for volunteers.

[h/t Cleburne Times-Review]

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