Stretchy nerves help some big whales open wide

stretchy nerves in a whale

WIDE OPEN  Fin whales and others like them have stretchy nerves (yellow) in their mouths and tongues that help the whales open their mouths wide to swallow a lot of prey.


Vogl et al./Current Biology 2015

Stretchy nerves help some whales stuff their mouths with fish.

Rorqual whales, which include the behemoth blue whale and the fin whale, have nerves in their tongues and mouths that stretch and recoil like rubber bands, researchers report May 4 in Current Biology. These nerves stretch to more than double their original length and appear to unfold and refold as the whales open and close their mouths.

Nerves aren’t known for their flexibility. Usually any bend or pull can damage them. Such stretchy nerves in these whales, however, may have helped some of them become the marine giants we see today, the scientists suggest.

photo of Ashley Yeager

Ashley Yeager is the associate news editor at Science News. She has worked at The Scientist, the Simons Foundation, Duke University and the W.M. Keck Observatory, and was the web producer for Science News from 2013 to 2015. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in science writing from MIT.

More Stories from Science News on Animals

From the Nature Index

Paid Content