Tiniest Chameleons Have Most Powerful Tongues

Posted: Jan 4 2016, 8:50am CST | by , Updated: Jan 4 2016, 8:25pm CST, in News | Latest Science News

Tiniest Chameleons Have Most Powerful Tongues
Trioceros hoehnelii was one of the 20 chameleon species in the study. Credit: Christopher Anderson
  • The Smallest of Chameleons strike out with their Fastest and Most Powerful Tongues

It has been found that the smallest of chameleons strike out at their prey with their long and furious tongues within seconds.

Everybody knows that chameleons are famous for sticking out their rapid-fire tongues in order to catch prey by surprise. A new study proves that this extraordinary ability extends to even the smallest of these chameleons. The smaller species have far greater lightning speed than the bigger members.

"Smaller species have higher performance than larger species," said Anderson, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, whose study has been published in Scientific Reports.

A chameleon may fit on the tip of your thumb. But its ballistic tongue projection would be such that it would reach a peak acceleration that is 264 times greater than that experienced under the forces of gravity.

Within a 100th of a second, the tiny chameleon’s tongue could accelerate at the rate of 0 to 60 miles per hour. This is indeed phenomenal. It takes this strange reptilian beast approximately 20 milliseconds to seize hold of a chirping cricket in the grass.

The biomechanics of the situation is complex. This motion happens to be the fastest and most powerful of actions ever seen in Nature. No other reptile, bird or mammal has ever achieved such remarkable speed.

Only salamanders have faster reflexes. The power of the chameleon’s tongue equals 14,040 watts per kilogram.

Surprisingly, the chameleon doesn’t use any spontaneity in its repertoire of catching prey. The motion is preloaded onto the stretchable tissues of the tongue muscles. It is the recoil energy that creates such extreme speed that allows the chameleon to catch a fly while it is midflight.

The upper echelons of this awesome ability remained an unknown quantity. 20 species were gathered by researchers and placed before a cricket which was the target prey.

What was noticed was that the smaller the chameleon, the faster its repertoire of lashing out at the prey with its sticky tongue.

Relative to body size, the chameleons had an inverse relation as regards their speed, but the larger species weren’t up to the mark. This data may seem weird in a way but in fact it makes scientific and evolutionary sense.

While all chameleons have a catapult-like biological device within their mouths, the smaller ones seem to have a larger one compared to their body size thereby increasing the quick response. They were like small cars with extremely powerful engines that allowed them to go faster than the fastest of entities.

The small chameleons also needed more prey to fuel their dynamic bodies which burnt energy at higher rates. That is why this repertoire in their behavior served an important purpose.

"What this study shows is that by using smaller species, we may be able to elucidate these higher performance values," he said.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/20" rel="author">Sumayah Aamir</a>
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