Tiny Chameleon Has Super-Powered Tongue

posted: 01/04/16
by: Jennifer Viegas for Discovery News
KwaZulu Dwarf Chameleon catch
M. Purves/Wikimedia Commons

Tiny chameleons have just made the animal record books, because a new study finds they have the world's second most powerful tongues among all reptiles, birds and mammals.

Only salamanders can beat chameleons in terms of tongue speed and strength among such a competitive field according to the study, which is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

It's been known for a while that chameleons stuck out their tongues fast and far, but the true extent of their abilities was not known. The smallest species hadn't been measured, until now.

"Smaller species have higher performance than larger species," study author Christopher Anderson, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University, said in a press release.

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Here's what it looks like when a small chameleon catches a cricket. The footage is in slow motion, as the moment would otherwise appear as an instantaneous tongue flick.


Anderson analyzed 20 species of chameleons of varying sizes. He perched each individual in front of a camera that shoots 3,000 frames per second. Anderson then dangled a cricket off of a mesh in front of each chameleon to trigger the tongue action.

For a tiny species like Rhampholeon spinosus, the total tongue power was measured to be 14,040 watts per kilogram. Put into automotive terms, the chameleon's tongue could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a hundredth of a second. It only needed about 20 milliseconds, though, to snag a cricket.

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What's more, the tiny chameleon could stick out its tongue to 2.5 times its body length. Most of the tongue motion is pre-loaded into elastic tissues.

Larger chameleons produced impressive motions as well, but not when compared to their smaller cousins. For example, a roughly 2-foot-long species, Furcifer oustaleti, managed a peak acceleration less than 18 percent than that of the tiny title holder.

Anderson explained that the smaller chameleons need to consume more energy per body weight to survive. They therefore must be especially good at catching their insect meals.

This article originally appeared on Discovery News


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