How Chameleons Snag Prey Weighing up to 30% Their own Body Weight

Closeup of Jaguar ChameleonBEACON TRANSCRIPTAccording to a recent study, chameleons’ impressive hunting skills do not rely solely on a super-fast tongue, but on super-sticky mucus too.

Researchers at University of Mons in Belgium found that the weird-looking animal has saliva with a 400 times greater viscosity than human saliva’s.

Past studies had shown that the elusive animals use their tongues to perform precise attacks as the organ can unfurl quicker than a jet plane. But in order to drag the prey towards their mouths they rely on super-sticky saliva.

Scientists suspected that there may be another secret that makes chameleons such skillful hunters after they had noticed that the animals do not wrap their tongues around their lunch to bring it to their mouths. So, there must be a mechanism that glues prey to chameleons’ tongue, researchers thought.

A recent analysis revealed that the animal’ tongue produces a super-viscous mucus that prevents any prey from fleeing. This may be why chameleons can catch prey that is up to 30 percent heavier than their own body weight.

Pascal Damman of the University of Mons’ Interfaces and Complex Fluids Laboratory and lead author of the study noted that chameleons use a very simple technique to hunt their prey. He added that this is a clear example that simple things can also be highly effective.

Damman explained that chameleons use their shifting skin color to camouflage and wait for a tasty prey to get within the range of their impressive tongue. The animal’s tongue fully extended can be twice as long as its body. This means that if a human had a chameleon-like tongue, it would have been 12 foot (three-meter) long.

Kiisha Nishikawa of Northern Arizona University who hadn’t contributed to the study likened the prey of a chameleon with a 25-pound burger a human would have to bring to his mouth using only his tongue.

Damman’s team was startled that no other scientist was interested in analyzing the animal’s sticky mucus until now. Researchers noticed that the saliva, which is as thick as honey, has only a temporary stickiness.

They took a sample of chameleon saliva and conducted an experiment to see how fast and long a ball would stick to a surface coated in the mucus. To their surprise, scientists learned that the adhesion was higher if the ball moved quicker. Scientists believe that the natural glue could help engineers devise new types of artificial glue.

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