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Video: Chameleon has one of fastest tongues in animal kingdom

Chameleons’ long, elastic tongues are one of the fastest muscles in the animal kingdom, extending more than twice their body length and packing 14,000 watts of power per kilo. But it is the smallest species that strike fastest, according to a new study. Researchers filmed tongue strikes of chameleons attacking a suspended cricket, at 3000 frames per second. They found that the animals’ tongues are capable of impressive acceleration, doing 0 kilometers to 100 kilometers per hour in one-hundredth of a second, twice as fast as the fastest car. And, like sports cars, the smallest chameleons are the most powerful. Across 20 species, ranging from the tiny 1-cm rosette-nosed chameleon (Rhampholeon spinosus) to the half-meter Malagasy giant chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti), the team found that smaller species’ tongues could accelerate at more than 250 g, five times faster than that of the largest chameleon. This is because small chameleons have evolved larger tongues relative to their body size, handy since they also need to consume proportionally more food to survive. As well as raw muscle power, chameleons spring-load the elastic tissue in their tongue, catapulting it toward prey when they strike, and giving them the highest acceleration and power output of any reptile, bird, or mammal. Previous studies underestimated their power because they failed to consider the little guy.