"When I was done laughing at this curious cat, the scientist in me began to question how a soft, wet tissue could stick to something so easily," Noel told Live Science. "After a few seconds of struggle, he figured out that he could detach his tongue by simply pushing his tongue into the blanket rather than pulling, de-hooking the blanket loops."
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Using high-speed video cameras, Noel and her colleagues recorded a cat removing cat food deeply wedged into a 3D-printed fur mat. They also 3D-printed a model of a cat tongue four times bigger than normal and experimented with it.
"We are the first to 3D-print a cat tongue mimic," Noel said.
The scientists noted that cats' tongue spines are curved and sharp. "In terms of shape and sharpness, it reminds me of cat claws," Noel said in a statement. The spines' hook-like nature essentially helps them behave like Velcro: As cat tongues glide over fur, their spines catch on tangles of hair, she said.
Moreover, "when the cat's tongue hits a snag, it pulls on the hooks, which rotate to penetrate the snag even further," Noel said in the statement. "Like a heat-seeking missile for snags, the hook's mobility allows the cat to better tease tangles apart." The rotating behavior of these hooks also helps wedge particles between them, helping them catch food, the researchers added.