Chameleons’ tongues have stunned scientists with their agility, especially since the smallest creatures seem to exhibit the greatest acceleration and strength.
These findings have been featured in a scientific paper which appeared on Monday, January 4, in the journal Scientific Reports.
A team of experts led by Christopher Anderson, postdoctoral research associate at Brown University’s Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, carried out an appraisal involving a group of 55 chameleons, pertaining to 20 distinct species.
During the trial, the reptiles were fed by researchers, and 279 such instances were captured on camera, at around 3,000 frames per second.
Studying the slow-motion footage allowed scientists to determine with precision the length of each chameleon’s tongue (compared to its body size), as well as its force and velocity.
It was determined that the species with the most remarkable characteristics was also the smallest one included in the study: Rhampholeon spinosus (the rosette-nosed chameleon).
This endangered reptile usually measures around 6 inches (15 centimeters), dwarfing Brookersia micra, the tiniest chameleon in the world, whose total body length is at just around 1.1 inches.
Rhampholeon spinosus is normally found in Tanzania’s Usambara Mountains, at elevations ranging between 3,280 and 4,920 feet.
As scientists have discovered, its elastic tongue is around 2.5 longer than the rest of its body, and reaches velocities of up to 8,500 feet, in a mere second.
Its level of acceleration is basically 264 times more significant than the standard acceleration of free fall (also known as standard gravity).
According to researchers, this means that if the chameleon’s quickly extrudable tongue were a vehicle instead, it could attain speeds of up to 60 miles per hour in just 10 milliseconds.
Also, the power of these tongue lashings, which is only surpassed by that exhibited by a salamander, has been estimated to be at a staggering 14,040 watts per kilogram.
These remarkable characteristics hadn’t been identified before, because the focus had always been on larger species.
Surprising as they might seem, the features transform the chameleon’s disproportionately long and muscular tongue into an essential evolutionary advantage, allowing the miniature creature to catch its prey off guard, and seize it without making any errors.
While at first it may seem unusual that such a small animal can pack so much force, study authors point out that bigger creatures have a lower relative metabolic rate (per gram of body tissue).
As a result, they don’t need to be as energy-efficient as tinier species, which require higher amounts of food in order to thrive.
To ensure that they constantly receive the nourishment they need, smaller chameleons have suffered adaptations so that they can hunt for prey more effectively, capturing crickets, ants, caterpillars, wasps, grasshoppers, worms, flies, mantises or butterflies.
The way they launch their tongue and project it involves the hyoid bone and a powerful accelerator muscle, this apparatus being much well-developed when it comes to less sizable reptiles.
Taking this into account, it’s no longer that astonishing to discover that the Malagasy giant chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti), which can measure up to 27 inches, can boost its velocity around 18% more slowly compared to its much tinier counterparts.
Image Source: Flickr