Littlest chameleons pack powerful tongues

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

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Size matters for chameleons and their projectile tongues.

Christopher Anderson, a biologist at Brown University, 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 amniotes, Anderson writes January 4 in Scientific Reports.

The new report updates work reported last year.  

 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. 

Christopher V. Anderson

Editor’s Note: This post was updated on January 20, 2016, to clarify the units of tongue acceleration and habitat location of Rhampholeon spinosus

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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