Smallest chameleons lash their tongues with most power

Tongue whips aren't the result of spontaneous muscle flexing, but a recoiling of tongue tissue.
By Brooks Hays   |   Jan. 4, 2016 at 10:38 AM

PROVIDENCE, R.I., Jan. 4 (UPI) -- It's not the size of the chameleon -- actually, it is the size of the chameleon.

According to scientists at Brown University, when it comes to powerful tongue-lashings, the smallest chameleons pack the most powerful punches.

"Smaller species have higher performance than larger species," biologist Christopher Anderson, a postdoctoral research associate at Brown, explained in a press release.

Anderson collaborated with researchers at the University of South Florida in order to collect and test the tongue power of 20 different chameleon species. Using a slow-motion camera -- specifically designed to film high-speed action -- Anderson and his partners measured the speed, distance and acceleration of chameleon tongues launched at a dangling cricket.

The researchers found the smallest species to be capable of the most powerful tongue-lashings.

Tongue whips aren't the result of spontaneous muscle flexing, but a recoiling of tongue tissue. Preloading the tongue's elasticity allows it to be flung out at high speeds in a split second.

The most powerful lashing was executed by the diminutive Rhampholeon spinosus chameleon, which launched its tongue with a power output of 14,040 watts per kilogram.

Anderson says it makes evolutionary sense that smaller species are capable of superior performance, as they must consume more calories per body weight to survive.

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

The study's results were published this week in the journal Scientific Reports.

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