Slip of the Tongue

When it comes to catching prey, some animals just suck

04-01-2001 // Mark Cheater

When it comes to catching prey, some animals just suck. That's what a Belgian biologist has found in a study of chameleons.

Anthony Herrel, a researcher at the University of Antwerp, wondered how chameleons capture creatures nearly one-sixth their size--the equivalent of a human bagging a large turkey--using only their glossal appendages. Granted, the lizards' slingshot tongues are comparatively longer than humans' tongues, but that still doesn't account for chameleons' prodigious snaring abilities.

In a series of experiments and high-speed videotapes, Herrel and collaborators at Northern Arizona University discovered that a chameleon can create a suction cup at the end of its tongue when it reaches its target. "Two muscles in the tongue actively pull the tip of the suction cup backwards to create the suction forces." says Herrel. "It basically works like a plunger." Note to kids: Don't attempt this trick at the dinner table.

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