Slo-mo tongues

March 26, 2015 • 2:45 pm

Here are three different tongues, each with a different anatomy and each operating in a different way to bring in food.

First, one of the fastest bits of animal anatomy I know of: the chameleon’s tongue (from Amy Carparelli via Heather Hastie): 0.07 seconds from mouth to prey! This is in fact the colorful Panther Chamelon (Furcifer pardalis) from Madagascar, whose males (there’s sexual dimorphism) can be incredibly colorful.

And, for grins, the tongue of one of the world’s most beautiful birds, the rainbow lorikeet of Australia (Trichoglossus moluccanus). Note also the slow-motion poop, clearly a source of great amusement for the filmmakers.

Lapping cats do it differently, pulling up a column of liquid with its tongue (also using the protuberances for adhesion), and then snapping off part of the column with its mouth. Note the scientists’ experiment and then their prediction: larger cats should lap more slowly:

12 thoughts on “Slo-mo tongues

  1. I know a scientist who studies the mechanics of chameleon and frog tongues. The propulsion is mainly from rapid constriction of circular muscles which cause the tongue to squirt forward. The end is weighted to give it more forward momentum so that it stretches a bit longer once the muscular assistance peters out.
    In the chameleon you can clearly see a supporting bone in the base.

    1. I noticed the bone, too…and I’m left wondering what its analogue is in other vertebrates. Maybe it’s a modified vertebra…?

      It’s not like the shared skeletal plan is flexible enough to just whip something up out of nowhere for such a purpose, of course….


    2. My understanding was that the speed comes not from rapid contraction of the circular muscles (muscles can’t contract fast enough), but hydrostatic pre-loading and either sudden relaxation of longitudinal muscles or release of some kind of mechanical catch. Here’s a paper that looks useful, but I’m too tired to read it right now.

  2. I think that chameleon tongue deserves the resurrection of “totes amazeballs”! 🙂

    Evolution is so cool.

  3. After seeing the video a year or so ago about how cats drink I have observed closely when Kink goes after a bowl of milk. The tongue action is visible even at normal cat speed!

  4. Not a fan of zoos in general, I will say I unabashedly enjoyed taking my son to the KC zoo as a wee lad and feeding the lorikeets little cups of fruit and nectar. There are few things I have experienced at an animal penitentiary like this one that are as simple and delightful as having these feathery gems fly excitedly up to your hand holding a food cup, landing on you and greedily lapping it up, tussling with it’s flock fellows, crapping on some lucky zoo visitors. It’s a guilty pleasure, but hopefully a relatively safe one for these lovely birds, and not at all depressing like the stupid sea lion-jumping-through-rings 1950’s era crapola they still perpetrate.

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