That sandpaper-like texture of your cat's tiny pink tongue is what makes it ideal for grooming fur. The secret: hundreds of hollow, rigid spines lining the surface of the tongue, according to a recent paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
This is just the latest bit of colorful research from David Hu, who runs a biolocomotion laboratory at the Georgia Institute of Technology studying how various creatures move. He is perhaps best known for his work with fire ants, but his lab also studies water striders, snakes, various climbing insects, mosquitos, and, um, animal bodily functions like urine. (One of his students, Patricia Yang, recently made headlines with her insights into why wombats produce cubed poo.)
It was another of Hu's graduate students, Alexis Noel, who came up with the idea for the cat tongue experiments. She was watching her cat try to "groom" a fluffy microfiber blanket one night and noticed its tongue kept getting snagged in the fibers. She found very little prior research on the biomechanics of cat grooming, and concluded the topic was ripe for experimentation.