Chameleon tongue power underestimated

Small chameleons are champions in mouth athletics


STRAIGHT SHOOTER  A petite chameleon from South Africa shoots its tongue out with more power than any other vertebrate action known to science.

Andrew Gruswitz / Wikimedia Commons (CC-BY-SA-3.0)

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — New measurements show a chameleon tongue zapping out with the highest power output (adjusted for animal size) yet documented for a vertebrate motion. The small South African chameleon species Bradypodion thamnobates shoots out its tongue with up to 41,000 watts of power per kilogram of muscle involved, Christopher Anderson of Brown University reported January 6 at the annual meeting of the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology.

Previous studies didn’t record anything so spectacular because they focused on larger chameleons, he said. In his study of body-size relationship with tongue performance, smaller species overall trounced bigger ones in various mouth athletics. The champ for tongue power output grows only about 4 centimeters long, not counting the tail. 

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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