Jan 05, 2016 I Paul Seaburn

Nature Endows the Tiniest Chameleons in Other Ways

Nature can be cruel … look at the nose on the proboscis monkey or the face on the monkfish. But occasionally nature makes up for those things in other ways. Take the endangered Usambara Spiny Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon spinosus ), also known as the Rosette-nosed Pygmy Chameleon. Its name depicts it as one of the smallest of its species, yet nature has endowed this tiny lizard in a way that makes it extremely happy.

Get your mind out of the gutter … we’re talking about its tongue. According to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports, this tiny chameleon has a has a tongue that can shoot out from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a hundredth of a second, giving it the ability to flick a bug out of the air in 20 milliseconds.

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According to study author and Brown University biologist Christopher Anderson, the Rosette-nosed Pygmy Chameleon’s tongue generates 14,040 watts per kilogram of muscle mass, the highest ever measured in any vertebrate except for a salamander.

How did Anderson measure this pygmy’s tongue thrust? Nature endowed him with a lot of patience. He collected 20 different species of chameleons in various sizes, put each on in front of a camera with a 3,000-frames-per-second speed, dangled crickets in front of each one on a mesh and waited.


Brown found that the smallest chameleons had the highest peak tongue acceleration, relative power, and distance of tongue extension relative to body size. The little pygmy chameleon’s tongue reached two-and-a-half times its body length. While larger chameleons had some length, they lacked the pygmy’s speed and thrust … the two-foot-long Malagasy giant chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti) had only 18 percent the pygmy’s acceleration.

Did nature compensate the tiny Rhampholeon spinosus in any other ways? That’s a question for Mrs. Spinosus.

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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