Abstract The buccal cavity of an herbivorous fish Oreochromis niloticus was investigated by means of scanning electron microscopy. The buccal cavity distinguished into the roof and the floor. Three different types of taste buds (type I, II and III) are distributed in the buccal cavity. The proximal part of the buccal cavity bears relatively high epidermal papillae in which type I TBs was found. The middle region of the buccal cavity is mostly occupied by low epidermal papillae containing type II TBs. Type III TBs which are present within the metabranchial buccal cavity; never rise above the normal level of the epithelium. The different types of TBs are useful for ensuring full utilization of the gustatory ability of the fish. It is postulated that the TBs serve different functions: TBs type I and II may act as chemoreceptors and mechanoreceptors. TBs type III acts predominantly as a chemoreceptors. TBs of each type show two kinds of receptor villi within their receptor areas: tall villi and small villi. The surface of the lining epithelial cells shows a delicate microridge system. These structures protect against physical abrasion potentially caused during food maneuvering and swallowing. Furthermore, protection of the epithelium from abrasion is enhanced with goblet cells secretion.