Quirks and Quarks

Chameleons Quick To Stick Out Their Tongues

Small chameleons out-perform larger relatives in tongue tricks

Small chameleons have quicker tongues

Baby High-casqued Chameleon (Christopher V. Anderson, © 2009)
Chameleons may be best known for their ability to change colour. But their ability to capture prey, utilizing ballistic tongue projection - rapidly sticking their tongue out to secure a meal - has also been well documented, but only in larger species.

Now Dr. Christopher Anderson from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University in Rhode Island has studied smaller chameleons, ranging in length from 4 to 20 centimetres. The study concluded that small chameleons outperform their larger relatives in tongue speed and acceleration, and tongue length. Small chameleons stick their tongues out 2 1/2 times their body length and, in automotive terms, go from zero to 60mph in a hundredth of a second.

Because smaller species have greater metabolic needs, they have to be able to capture more prey, at a greater distance, in order to survive.

Related Links

- Paper in Nature 
- Brown University release
Smithsonian Magazine article
- National Geographic article
- New York Times story