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The record-breaking tongue lashing of the chameleon

It’s no secret that chameleons possess remarkable tongues. Aristotle first described the breathtaking speed of chameleon tongue projection around 300 B.C. But the tongue lashings these lizards deliver to unsuspecting prey happen in such a blur that scientists have historically understood very little about the mechanisms that make them possible. Now, with the help of new imaging technology, University of South Dakota scientist Christopher Anderson is unfurling the mysteries behind one of the most amazing fast-food feats on the planet. Armed with a high-speed camera—and a homemade “cricket trapeze”—Anderson has recorded tongue strikes from chameleons large and small.

Anderson’s 3,000-frame-per-second videos have also revealed something surprising about some of the smallest chameleons: They’re not only projecting their tongues out really quickly—the “equivalent to a car going from 0 to 60 (miles per hour) in one-hundredth of a second”—but they’re projecting them proportionally farther than the larger species.

See them in action in Lens of Time: A Record-Breaking Tongue Lashing, a Spine Films video for bioGraphic Magazine.

Next: A tiny baby chameleon hatches from an egg, how and why chameleons change color, and a life-like paper chameleon automata.

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