Chameleons are interesting animals not only because of their ability to blend in with their surroundings by changing their skin color, but also because of their zippy fast tongues, which are used to catch insects and other tasty treats when they’re hungry.
Chameleons’ tongues are ultra-fast and can stretch to more than twice the length of the actual animal itself, and as described in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London A, if they were compared to a car, they could get moving from 0-60 miles per hour in just a one-hundredth of a second.
Yeah… let that sink in for a moment…
At this speed, there is almost nothing chameleons like to eat that can avoid getting swallowed for dinner, but there has been no accurate math behind the speed of the tongue to date. A recent study, however, is changing this by providing new math behind the agility of the chameleon's tongue.
The animated GIF below shows just how fiercely quick it really is:
So what’s the story behind this incredible speed, exactly?
As the research points out, a chameleon’s tongue has a bone at its core and has about 10-15 layers of elastic muscle tissue that allow it to propel at jaw-dropping speeds, and also to stretch to incredible lengths.
The secret behind the length is the telescopic muscle mechanisms that allow it to extent straight, rather than as a roll.
Researchers from the University of Oxford have created a mathematical equation that represents the speed and efficiency of a chameleon’s tongue as it gets ejected from the mouth.
"The equations are modelling the mechanics of these different layers, and the interactions of these different layers," Dr Moulton explained. "The balance of forces and the energy contained in these different layers when the muscle - this outermost layer - contracts, which is what sets the whole thing in motion."
The next time you see a chameleon snatch up an insect with its tongue, you will be able to appreciate just how quickly that tongue is actually moving and just how much incredible evolution is behind the tongue’s accurate lightning-fast maneuvers.