BALLISTIC TONGUE IN ACTION
The biology behind a chameleon’s lightning-quick licker
This bone anchors the tongue in the lower jaw. When ready to fire, the hyoid is lifted up and out, raising the tongue above the jawline ready to fire.
Tightly wound coils of collagen tissue – the ‘hyoglossus complex’ – concertina in layers around the hyoid gleam. When at rest this is where potential energy is stored.
Contracting this ring-shaped muscle releases the stored energy. As the retractor complex stretches out the tongue shoots forward.
Reeling it in
Whichever direction this cylindrical bone is pointing is where the tongue-tip will travel; it’s essentially the bolt in this biological crossbow.
The tongue terminates with a firm pad surrounded by folds of softer tissue. On impact, the squidgy tissue continues to move forwards, engulfing the victim. Retracting the tongue with the ensnared prey is a far slower process, relatively speaking, relying on the contraction of the retractor muscle.