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Tiny Chameleons Have Powerful Tongues, Researchers Say

Jan 04, 2016 01:59 PM EST

Chameleons are known for their ability to change color and snatch prey using their super-fast tongues. However, a recent study from Brown University suggests these animals are even more skilled than previously thought.

In the latest study, researchers examined 20 species of chameleons of varying sizes, one of which being the very small Rhampholeon spinosus. They found this particular lizard's tongue can travel at speeds up to 60 mph in just one hundredth of a second, though it only needs about 20 milliseconds to snag a cricket, according to a news release. This find is one for the record books, seeing as salamanders are the only species that can beat chameleons in terms of tongue speed and strength. (Scroll to read more...)

"Smaller species have higher performance than larger species," study author Christopher Anderson, a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University, explained in the release.

While all chameleons have the same catapult-like apparatus for launching the tongue, it is proportional to their body size and amount of energy needed. However, these lizards don't just use spontaneous muscle power to fling their tongues. Instead, they preload most of the energy they need into elastic tissues in their tongue.

When examining tongue extension, Anderson found Rhampholeon spinosus could propel its tongue 2.5 times its body length. Comparatively, a roughly two-foot-long species, Furcifer oustaleti, managed a peak acceleration less than 18 percent that of its tinier cousin.

Like all small animals, tiny chameleons need to consume more energy per body weight to survive. Therefore they have to shoot out their tongues unusually fast and far in order to compete for their insect meals.

"What this study shows is that by using smaller species, we may be able to elucidate these higher performance values," Anderson added in the university's release.

Their findings were recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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