Bigger isn’t always better. In a study published this week in Scientific Reports, Christopher Anderson, a biologist at Brown University found that the smallest chameleons had the most powerful tongues.
Usually, when people think of chameleons they think of their extraordinary ability to change color, a skill that they get from crystal-like structures in their skin.
But they also have pretty incredible tongues, capable of snagging their dinner from a distance.
Anderson looked at 20 species of chameleon, luring each to display their skills in front of a high speed camera with a tasty cricket. Using the footage, he was able to determine how fast each chameleon’s tongue accelerated out of its mouth.
He found that the smaller chameleons had tongues that could accelerate faster out of their mouths, with more power, and could even extend longer distances compared to their body size. Anderson writes that while all chameleons have the same kind of mechanism for powering their tongues, it may be proportionally more powerful in the smaller chameleons, because of their smaller body size.
The fastest tongue of the 20 chameleons examined by Anderson belonged to the tiny Rhampholeon spinosus which could fling its tongue out at its prey at stunning accelerations. Its fastest acceleration that researchers recorded was 2.59 meters per second per second, which allowed it to reach speeds of about 11 miles per hour in a fraction of a second–that’s the equivalent of a car going from zero to 60 miles per hour in roughly 0.01 of a second.