Small lizard packs powerful tongue

Rhampholeon spinosus

Like other chameleons, Rhampholeon spinosus (shown) probably achieves such astounding power and acceleration of its tongue by contracting muscles and thereby loading them with potential energy like a catapult. 

Christopher V. Anderson

Size matters for chameleons and their projectile tongues.

Christopher Anderson, a biologist at Brown University in Providence, R.I., observed 20 chameleon species feeding on crickets and found that smaller lizards shot their tongues proportionally farther and faster than larger lizards. The small Tanzanian Rhampholeon spinosus accelerates its tongue 2,590 meters per second per second with a power output of 14,040 watts per kilogram of muscle — the strongest movement on record for any reptile, bird or mammal, Anderson writes January 4 in Scientific Reports.

The new report refines estimates of the power output of chameleon tongues reported last year (SN: 2/7/15, p. 12). 

 Because they have higher metabolic rates and thus need more food to survive, smaller chameleons like Trioceros hoehnelii (shown) may have evolved faster tongues, Anderson posits. 




Helen Thompson is the multimedia editor. She has undergraduate degrees in biology and English from Trinity University and a master’s degree in science writing from Johns Hopkins University.

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