Mechanics of the Chameleon Tongue

The mechanism of a chameleon's tongue is analogous in some sense to a catapult. Stored energy is released when the tongue is "fired", reaching prey at a distance longer than the length of the chameleon's body in 0.7 seconds, at a speed of about 6 m/s. The chameleon elongates its sticky tongue at accelerations near 50 G (∼500 ), with a power as great as 3000 W/kg. The very rapid change in speed is produced by accelerator muscles that contract against the hyoid horn (blue arrows) to make them extend forward (red arrow). A simple model based on the shooting of a cherry pit has been proposed [1] using just Newton's second law.


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[1] G. Planinsic and A. Likar, "Speed, Acceleration, Chameleons and Cherry Pit Projectiles," Physics Education, 47(1), 2012 pp. 21–27. doi:10.1088/0031-9120/47/1/21.
[2] U. K. Müller and S. Kranenbarg, "Power at the Tip of the Tongue," Science, 304(5668), 9 April 2004 pp. 217–219. doi:10.1126/science.1097894.
[3] S. Deban. Chameleon Tongue Projection [Video]. (Feb 15, 2013) vimeo.com/12068409.
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