What can go from 0 to 60 in a hundredth of a second? That would be the tongue of the chameleon Rhampholeon spinosus. It’s not the world’s tiniest chameleon (that would be Brookesia micra, which could easily balance on the tip of your finger), but the species was the smallest one studied in a paper published Monday in Scientific Reports. And the little lizard is surprisingly fierce: Its tongue packed a bigger punch than that of its bigger cousins.
Brown University postdoctoral researcher Christopher Anderson wanted to figure out just how powerful a chameleon’s tongue can be. Second only to the tongue of a salamander, a chameleon tongue uses unique elastic tissues to produce an incredible amount of force and acceleration. According to Anderson’s analysis of 20 different species of chameleon (which included 55 individuals and 279 individual feeding events recorded at 3,000 frames per second), the acceleration, relative length and relative force of the tongue may actually increase as the chameleon’s size decreases.