Chameleon tongues

The Jackson’s chameleon from the mountains of East Africa has the fastest tongue of any reptile. Chameleons cruise the treetops where there are lots of insects. The tricky part is catching up with it. Luckily, this hunter does not need to get too close, as its tongue is like a ballistic missile. Inside its mouth, things are much more complex than inside ours. The tongue has a muscular tube surrounding a rod of cartilage. When the chameleon is ready to strike, muscles at the back of the throat push the tongue into launch position. Once the prey is lined up and the distance calculated, super-fast muscles contract and propel the tongue forward at lightning speed. But the cleverest part is the tip. Covered in microscopic fingers, it closes like a sticky mitt, ripping the insect from its perch. As if on a rubber band, the tongue then recoils back into the mouth. Steel-trap jaws and needle-teeth finish the job. But even the most powerful missile is only as good as its guidance system. The chameleon judges range and distance better than any other reptile. Its turret eyes move independently, missing nothing. But to focus on prey, it swivels its eyes together to line up its target precisely. It is a bulls-eye nine times out of ten.

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4 minutes


Role Contributor
ProducerYvonne ELLIS
NarratorLloyd OWEN

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