The Chameleon’s Tongue
DOES NOT roll out and in like a fire
hose, nor does it GROW from increased blood flow. It is
not "inflated with air" as was thought as late as the
1930’s. It is actually more of a spring loaded mechanism
similar to a pinball machine releasing the ball (with a
built in retractor). It is and a very complicated process
involving bones that hold the tongue back, and muscles
that release and retract it. Their tongue is as long or
longer than their body. The tip is fatter than the rest of
the tongue and has a slightly sticky wet, secretion
generated by glands in the tongue tip. The tip widens when
the target is hit, and as it pulls back, it creates a
slight suction, which helps hold the food item in place.
After shooting their tongue out, the chameleon will close
its eyes, much like we do when we sneeze, to help protect
them from possible damage. To protect the tongue from
possible damage, they have control only over the distance
of the strike once the tongue is released. The aim is
taken before the release and can not be changed. If a
chameleon accidentally catches a non-food item, the tongue
pushes it out of the mouth.
Another controversial and interesting
tongue trick done by chameleons is a "taste test" of
branches. It is believed that they do this to determine
territory claims. Their "Jacobson’s organ" (for smell) is
degenerative, much like our tonsils, so it is believed
that they use this process for SMELL. Taste buds have been
found in their tongues.
Listed below and depicted to the left are the FIVE stages of
"tongue action" involved in catching the prey, according
to "Chameleons Volume Two Care and Breeding" (see lit
Petr Necas (lit cited
7) has a slightly different account of
1. BOTH eyes lock on prey (aim).
2. The tip of the tongue is stuck out of
the mouth, sort of a sampling (protrusion).
3. The tongue is shot out and the prey
is affixed to the tip (projection).
4. The tongue returns to the mouth
5. The prey item is chewed and swallowed
The chameleon’s tongue is so unique that
they were actually once considered a separate suborder
RHIPTOGLOSSA which means "whip tongue"
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literature cited (1,
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