PROVIDENCE, RI – The tinniest chameleons have incredibly powerful tongues, which are fundamental for their survival.
Accelerating from zero to 60mph (97 kilometers) in 1/100th of a second, these reptile tongues are among the fastest on Earth. The study findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.
Thanks to a special elastic tissue, the color-changing reptiles can keep their tongues folded up like an accordion. The phenomenon is known by scientists as elastic recoil. In order to catch its prey, a chameleon releases its tongue muscles and sticks its tongue out at a deadly, surprising speed and accuracy. Study author Christopher Anderson said he did not expect to discover the actual values of the performance of chameleon tongues, which he qualified as “remarkable”.
Anderson, who is a postdoctoral student in vertebrate morphology at Brown University, has been interested in chameleons since he was a child and recently decided to study the tiniest chameleon species because they are harder to catch and therefore not as well studied as the biggest chameleons. His research team found that the tinier a chameleons is, the more powerful its tongue, and it can stretch more than twice the reptile’s body length. In a person, that would be a tongue about 3 to 4 meters (10 to 12 feet) long.
For this study, Anderson examined high-speed video of chameleons while they were catching insects. He then compared the recorded new video with previous footage from zoos, private breeders, and the wild. He gave the reptiles back once the experiment was over.
The research team took 3000 frames per second to measure how fast the tongue of a chameleon accelerated out of its mouth. Some smaller chameleons had a performance similar to that of bigger ones, but many of them had tongues even faster and stronger.
The smallest reptile used in the experiment was an endangered chameleon from Tanzania named Rhampholeon spinosus, whose tongue produced a peak acceleration that was 264 times greater than the acceleration produced by gravity.
“That’s extremely high. It’s the highest acceleration and power output of all the amniotes, which includes reptiles, birds, and mammals,” commented Anderson.
Kangaroos use the same elastic recoil principle in their hind legs to jump and humans are no exception. We are not aware of it at the moment but we use it in order to save energy and prevent damage to our bodies while running.
Source: National Geographic