How does a Chameleons tongue work ?

Panther Chameleon tongue
ll chameleons are predominantly insectivores.  There are  however many Chameleons will actively eat fruit, plant leaves and other vegetation as part of their diet.

With a speed of 13.4 miles per hour (Bijal P. Trivedi, “Catapults” Give Chameleon Tongues Superspeed, Study Saysthat can surpass even some of the fastest bikers in the world with ease, the tongue features a sticky substance that makes hunting or preying times easy and deadly. Modern research suggests that the reason behind a Chameleon’s ability to throw the tongue with ultra-fast speed lies primarily in its biological structure.

That is, structurally, like a motion that resembles arrow launch from a bow, the tongue is propelled by elastic collagen tissue structured in the middle of accelerator muscle and tongue bone or hyoid bone, acting as a catapult.

 The speed at which the Chameleon shoots its tongue is not the only striking thing about the Chameleon’s tongue. Interestingly, a Chameleon has the ability to project its tongue to a distance close to one and half times its body length. Even more surprising is the fact that certain less-researched smaller variants of the lizard can throw their tongues to distances as long as twice their body length!

A Chameleon can typically shoot its tongue out reaching its target in as little as 0.007 seconds. (Chameleon, Wikipedia).
Closely resembling a club (Tongue Mechanics,, the tip of a Chameleon’s tongue contains saliva of sticky  nature, which help adhere the front part of the tongue to the prey in target, when a strike is performed by the lizard. Coiled inside the mouth neatly when not in use (The Incredible Projectile Tongue of the Chameleon, Scribol), the tongue works with the help of circular as well as longitudinal muscles. When it comes to pulling the tongue back in its place, the retractor muscle known as hyoglossus shows its magic of following the tongue projection with precision and accuracy.

Almost every single aspect about the Chameleon’s tongue is extremely interesting especially its ability to project its tongue with such high speeds even when its body temperature remains considerably low, which is not the case with other similar ectothermic animals.



1) Trivedi, Bijal. “Catapults Give Chameleon Tongues Superspeed, Study Says.” National Geographic News. National Geographic Society, 19 May, 2004.Web
2) “Chameleon.” 
Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., 26 April, 2014. Web.
3) “Tongue Mechanics.” 
Reptilis. Reptilis. Web.
4)  Sarus, Emmy. “The Incredible Projectile Tongue of the Chameleon.” 
Scribol. Scribol, 11 October 2010. Web.


1) Main image supplied by Scott Cromwell

Posted in About Chameleons.

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