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What the Heck Is This?

Some things just don't look like what you'd expect up close. This is one of them.

Stumped? It's the human tongue. See the full-size image below.

The human tongue is a fascinating and fairly misunderstood thing. It helps us with speech and eating and does a pretty good job at kissing. But there are some myths about it.

The tongue is sometimes called the strongest muscle in the body. While it's versatile, elastic and forceful, it's not as strong as the calf muscle, which scientists say is No. 1.

Also, the idea that the tongue has four distinct areas — sweet, sour, salty and bitter — is a myth. Even though you'll still find this represented as a tongue map in some textbooks, in fact taste receptors are spread all over your tongue.

This one is not a myth: Your tongue can get stuck to a flagpole in freezing whether. Moisture on the tongue freezes when exposed to the cold.

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The human tongue is loaded with about 10,000 taste buds, each of which has receptors that sense different tastes. (Image credit: Piotr Marcinski Dreamstime.com)
Robert Roy Britt
Rob was a writer and editor at Space.com starting in 1999. He served as managing editor of Live Science at its launch in 2004. He is now Chief Content Officer overseeing media properties for the sites’ parent company, Purch. Prior to joining the company, Rob was an editor at The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, and in 1998 he was founder and editor of the science news website ExploreZone. He has a journalism degree from Humboldt State University in California.