A new study published today in the Scientific Reports shows that tiny chameleons have the fastest tongues.
The tongues of these tiny lizards can accelerate from zero to 60mph (about 100km.h) in a hundredth of a second. That is about 264 times the force of gravity. Poor crickets don’t stand any chance in the face of such a fast tongue!
According to Brown University’s postdoctoral researcher Christopher Anderson, the tiny chameleons need more food than the larger ones per ounce of body weight to keep their metabolism working at its best. The super turbo tongues help those little predators capture more prey.
Anderson claims that this is a very god example of morphological evolution triggered by metabolic necessities.
Previous research had already concluded that chameleons had incredible cool tongues. When these little lizards snap their tongue at a passing fly they don’t use only their muscular power. Chameleon’s tongue is anchored by the hyoid, which is a bone with a tubular muscle wrapped around it. The tubular muscle and the bone are connected by some elastic connective tissues.
Before flipping its tongue the chameleon contracts the muscle which then stretches the elastic connective tissue. It works just like a string on a bow. This is what gives the chameleon’s tongue its incredible speed.
Though, almost all the previous research on the chameleon tongues was conducted on large chameleons. Anderson has studied the tongue-shooting of 20 different species and 55 individuals using high-speed video recordings. The chameleons were different sizes from 1.6 to 7.8 inches long.
The researcher discovered that some of the chameleons were able to projects their tongues through distances 1.5 longer than their own body with some species reaching even 2.5 their body’s length.
Anderson was shocked to discover that the smaller chameleon studied was also the one whose tongue was projected the faster and it also had the most power.
In terms of power the tiny chameleon’s tongue released 14,000 watts per kilogram. Until this discovery the most powerful muscle of a vertebrate was that of quails’ wings when they are taking off vertically but that was only 1,100 watts per kilogram.
The only faster tongue known in the animal world until now is that of the salamanders. However, even if their tongue accelerates faster than that of the studied chameleon, salamanders are amphibians. Chameleons are to remain the fastest and most powerful muscle accelerators in the world of vertebrates.
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