Have you ever seen a chameleon flick its tongue at a fly? Well, this small reptile with a foot long body has an extremely long tongue. Its nearly three-fourths the length of its body!
A chameleon can launch its tongue out at targets up to two body lengths away. It flicks its tongue and can snap its prey in 1/25th of a second! This is faster than you can blink your eye!
Once the tongue makes contact with a prey, the prey gets attached to the sticky tongue like glue. The chameleon then withdraws its tongue, with the prey firmly attached into its mouth. The chameleon’s sticky tongue is capable of gripping anything – sometimes even lassoing lizards nearly the same size as itself.
Biologists have often wondered how chameleons manage to latch on to larger animals using just this sticky adhesive power. Chameleon tongues aren’t big enough, or for that matter, sticky enough, to bag big prey with mere adhesion.
Recent research has revealed the secret of how a chameleon’s tongue sticks and grips its prey – the tongue latches itself on to its victims with suction. The muscles beneath the tip of a chameleon’s tongue, forms a flat pad at rest, but turns into a conical depression when in flight acting like a suction cup.
A study carried out over an extended period of time was recently released in a Biology journal – the reaction of the chameleon’s tongue on a hollow straw and a sealed straw were observed.
Since the former allowed air to enter – the suction effect was less obvious, however the chameleon clung with two-and-a-half times the strength to the sealed straw, due to airtight conditions.
Ten species of chameleons from Africa and Madagascar were put through this test and the team of international scientists arrived at the same conclusion. Since the chameleon is not a very fast moving animal, its tongue’s ability to adhere to objects is essential for the survival of the species.
Chameleons belong to the lizard family and are well known for their ability to change colours. This sudden change in skin colour occurs when the reptile is frightened, or in reaction to light and temperature changes.
Hormones that affect special pigment-bearing cells in the skin cause the chameleons to ‘change colour’. Contrary to popular belief, the colour-change does not always match the surroundings.