The “rock licker” badge.


In which recipients have honed their palate to distinguish fossil from bone, since licking rocks purely for fun is kind of weird (B).



  1. Ooooh!!! That’s me!! I really do that. Not to distinguish fossil from bone, but lithic material from bone that looks exactly like lithic material . Limestone sticks, though, so it’s kind of a middle ground. I hate limestone. It’s everywhere and it looks like many other things; chert, burnt and regular mammal bone to name but a few.

    How about a badge for “I’ve searched for hours through muck to find nothing (in the name of science)” badge? Archaeology is fun.

    Or maybe one for ‘people who have to reply “Errrr…” when asked what their field is good for’ badge?

  2. Does eating rocks count? I’ve licked halite (NaCl) to differentiate it from Sylvite (KCl), but eating is really the best way to differentiate mudstone from siltstone. If its siltstone, you can still feel the individual grains in your mouth after taking a bite, while mudstone feels smooth all the way down. Yummy!

    It’s really the only way to tell the difference in the field where you lack the ability to make thin sections and measure the grains with a microscope.

  3. Absolutely! Along the lines of eating siltstone, there’s an outcropping of Stephen Formation on the highway west of Jasper, Alberta. No Burgess beasties in it, sadly, but I couldn’t resist putting a piece in my sandwich.

  4. I’m a hydrogeologist, and have licked rock core samples during drilling to see if I could taste chlorides in the groundwater. Also to determine silt from clay. I smell rocks more often than I taste them though…pretty sure I can smell clay (maybe dolostone too?).

  5. I too was taught to touch things to the tip of my tongue to verify if they were bone or not. I’ve since been yelled at for it for DNA issues, but not before I touched a nice big piece that ended up being part of a human cranium. Cannibalism for science, indeed.

  6. Licking rocks is a very important way to gather important geological data! I am an evaporite sedimentologist and I lick rocks to test whether a sample is halite or sylvite or epsomite, etc. In my field area in Western Australia, the locals have dubbed my research group “the rock lickers”. I study acid saline lakes, some of which are brightly colored. When I first encountered a yellow lake, I tasted it (just a drop on my tongue) and predicted that it had very high dissolved aluminum (it tasted like aluminum foil). Sure enough, when we measured the dissolved Al in the water in the lab, it had almost 8,000 ppm Al! You can also use rock licking to test for a volcanic tuff.

  7. I work at a nature center, and we have a huge (unlabeled) rock and mineral samples. When we moved to our new (LEED Certified Platinum, yo) building, I was in charge of moving the rocks. I decided to wash them, as they were sorta grotty, and wondered why the large quartzy things had gone a little funny looking in the bath. A quick lick and I discovered- not quartz! We have large blocks of very transparent halite! No more baths for the halite.

  8. I have licked rocks to distinguish the grain size, and also to dangle a large piece of kaolinite off my tongue to impress non-geologists.

  9. i was definitely taught to lick rocks when i studied geology, but then went into uranium exploration and then radiation safety where that’s not such a great idea and now suffer conflicting urges whenever i see a rock

  10. I thought this category was absurd. Then I remembered that I licked my piece of meteorite Sikhote-Alin for the sheer pleasure of licking an object that fell from outer space. And I have no reservations about doing it again. In fact I’m looking at it right now…

  11. As an archaeology field student, I was taught to lick fragments to determine if they were non-fossilized bone or wood. In certain strata, those can look surprisingly similar! If it sticks to your tongue, it’s bone, BTW.

  12. Oy! Nothing wrong with licking rocks for non-classificatory purposes! I am both a scientist and an aesthete, and tasting the shapes of pebbles at the seaside is a thoroughly legitimate activity. ^_^

  13. As an archaeologist, I regularly lick pottery to tell its porosity. And pottery is, of course, make from dirt.

  14. This is not my field but I have licked rocks in my undergrad sedimentology lab. I forget what I licked but I know I did it.

  15. Well, as a geologist/paleontologist, I’ve licked a lot of rocks, but here’s my favorite instance:

    I was out in Wyoming, searching for dino (stegosaurus) gastroliths in the Morrison Formation. Now, your fingers cannot tell the difference between rock that has been polished by water and rock that has been polished by stomach acid. Only your tongue can do that, so whenever I found a rounded chert pebble, I licked it. The only problem was that most of these rocks were dark and it was very sunny out. Burned my tongue quite a few times.

  16. I’ve licked rocks to help distinguish if they’re composed of halite or not. I’ve eaten rocks to see if they’re mudstone or siltstone. I suppose that has to count.

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