Chameleon spit is ultra sticky, enables tongue to nab insects

Brittany A. Roston - Jun 20, 2016, 4:52pm CDT
Chameleon spit is ultra sticky, enables tongue to nab insects

Chameleons have long intrigued humans, due in no small part to their funny eyes, their color-changing skin, and their whip-like tongues. When hunting, a chameleon will shoot its tongue out to surprising lengths, striking an insect and reeling it back in for a quick meal. How the tongue itself works is no mystery, but how it managed to cling to the insect wasn’t so clear until now. Turns out, chameleons have super-sticky spit.

According to a study published in Nature today, chameleon spit is 400 times stickier than human spit, enabling the creature’s tongue to snatch bugs and other prey that weigh up to 30-percent of its body weight. This conclusion differs from past speculation that chameleon tongues may have worked with a velcro-like effect or via some suction mechanism.

As can be seen in photos, chameleon tongues are also larger at the ends than they are in the middle; this larger section makes it possible for chameleons to slap larger bugs and other critters while hunting — things like lizards in addition to smaller meals like ants and flies.

To reach their conclusion, the researchers used a magnifying glass held over a bug with a chameleon nearby. The creature slapped the glass with its tongue when attempting to eat the bug, leaving some spit behind. The researchers then ran beads down the glass through the spit while measuring how long it took. Finally, they compared that speed with speeds of beads passing through other substances to figure out how sticky the chameleon spit is.

VIA: Discover Magazine


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