National Geographic : 2015 Sep
chameleons 99 says. Because the lizards often died on the journey from Madagascar and the African con- tinent to Western laboratories, early herpetol- ogists could only guess at how live chameleons worked. That yielded theories that seem laugh- able now, he says: “It was once thought that the chameleon tongue projected because it inflated with air or filled with blood, like erectile tissue.” Anderson studies chameleon feeding in in- tricate detail. Using a camera that captures 3,000 frames a second, he turned 0.56 seconds of a chameleon eating a cricket into a 28-second instructional video on projection mechanics. Stored in the lizard’s throat pouch is a tongue bone surrounded by sheaths of elastic, collage- nous tissue inside a tubular accelerator muscle. When the chameleon spies an insect, it pro- trudes its tongue from its mouth, and the mus- cle contracts, squeezing the sheaths, which shoot out as if spring-loaded. The tongue tip is shaped so that it acts like a wet suction cup, grabbing the prey. The tongue recoils; dinner is served. Scientists have more to learn about tongue projection, Anderson says. His research sug- gests that in some chameleons, it may go even farther and faster than previously thought. The understanding of chameleon coloration Madagascar’s chameleons can be as tiny as Brookesia micra, its body less than an inch long, and as large as a two-foot-long Oustalet’s chameleon, seen here by baobab trees.