March 8, 2004 | David F. Coppedge

Chameleon Tongue Beats Jet Aircraft

Did you know a chameleon’s tongue is so fast as it shoots out toward its prey, it reaches 50 G’s – five times faster than a fighter jet can accelerate?  Science Now describes how the chameleon does it.  Scientists only recently found out the secret with high-speed photography and careful examination of the tongue structure, done by Jurriaan de Groot of Leiden University and Johan van Leeuwen (Wageningen University, the Netherlands).  They had to shoot at 500 frames a second to see the action.
    The tongue has an accelerator muscle, which by itself is not strong enough to achieve the high speed.  The tongue is bound, though, to 10 newly-discovered sheaths, tied to the tongue bone, that literally catapult the tongue outwards.  These sheaths contain a spirally-wound protein that store energy “like a stretched rubber band.”  As the tongue accelerates, the sheaths release their energy, then telescope outward to allow the tongue to reach its maximum extent – twice the chameleon’s body length.  Facing a predator so armed, the fastest fly doesn’t stand a chance.

No series of gradual transitional forms was suggested in the article.  And forget it; there’s no way this creature could have evolved from a fast-talking salesman.

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