What Animal Has the Best Sense of Taste?

(Image credit: United States Fish and Wildlife Service)

The average person has about 10,000 taste buds. That number may seem like a lot, but it pales in comparison to the animal that has the most. That's because this creature has taste buds not only in its mouth, but all over its body.

Catfish (order Siluriformes), those beady-eyed fish named for their feline-like whiskers, typically have more than 100,000 taste buds. Some large catfish can have as many as 175,000.

Tiny taste buds, sensory organs comprised of cells that detect the molecules that constitute flavor, are located all over the catfish's body, but are most concentrated on the four pairs of whiskers around its mouth. These whiskers, called barbells, act as antennae. Along with the thousands of buds along their body, the whiskers allow the fish to not only taste when dinner is nearby, but also hone in on its exact location.

As bottom-dwelling fish that prefer to live in extremely muddy, murky waters , catfish have adapted to finding prey in the dark. Although catfish have sight, they don't need it to hunt down their food.

Having an abundance of taste buds increases an animal's ability to detect even trace amounts of food. A highly developed sense of taste is critical for catfish, which do their hunting in extremely muddy, murky waters where visibility is low. Scientists have found that although catfish can catch their prey without visual cues, catfish without functioning taste buds are unable to feed normally.

As for the animal that has the fewest taste buds? It's chickens , who have only about 24.

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Remy Melina was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Communication from Hofstra University where she graduated with honors.