The Tongue – A Chameleon’s Weapon

Chameleon Eating

Chameleons have many amazing abilities apart from changing color. They have an extraordinarily long sticky tongue that can catch prey in the blink of an eye. Their tongue is very strong, long, and sticky, and many factors make their tongue this way.

Length of the tongue

Unlike any other species, the chameleon can stretch out its tongue twice the size of its body. When the tongue is inside the chameleon’s mouth, it is in a folded coil manner around the hyoid bone.

According to the law of elasticity, when the chameleon shoots its tongue, the chameleon shoots its tongue with greater force and greater length. A chameleon can catch prey two times farther away than the length of its body.

Sticky Tongue

Chameleons are very lazy by nature, but their eyes and tongue are very fast and active. Chameleons wouldn’t otherwise be able to chase prey and hunt because they move slowly. It would also be useless if their tongue didn’t have a sticky mucous to catch prey. Without the sticky mucous, the chameleon would have to coil around the insect and eat, which is practically impossible.

The mucous created in the chameleon’s tongue is 400 times thicker and stickier than human saliva. The surface of the tongue is stickier. When the chameleon shoots its tongue, the sticky mucous won’t allow the prey to escape; after that, the chameleon coils its tongue in its mouth. This ability helps the chameleon to sneak and catch the prey even at a very greater distance.

Fastest Tongue

The chameleon has a tongue twice as long as its body. The tongue is really sticky, so that they can catch insects easily. The tongue’s movement goes from 0 to 60 miles per second in 1/100th of a second, which means it moves faster than a high-end sports car!

The speed of the smallest species of chameleon tongues is 200 times the gravitational force. Some of the largest chameleon’s tongues can stretch up to four feet!

Scientists say that the speed of the tongue is greater in small chameleons compared to larger ones. This is because young chameleons have less energy to burn, making their tongue stronger and faster than larger adult chameleons.

One amazing fact is that a chameleon’s acceleration is two times faster than any sports car. They have the highest acceleration of muscle per kilogram compared to any other species. Researchers are still going on about the chameleon’s tongue, and many robots have been designed from the inspiration provided by the chameleon’s tongue mechanism.

Force of the Tongue

It is quite difficult for any kind of species other than chameleons to catch fast-moving insects. Chameleons are able to do it because of the speed and the force behind that speed. The force is the reason chameleons can stretch their tongues longer and quicker to catch fast-moving prey.

Chameleons can shoot their tongue 8,000 feet per second because of the ballistic force, making them catch the fastest critters.

Chameleon Sticky Tongue

The two main parts of the tongue

The two main parts of the tongue are the hyoid bone and the accelerator muscle. Without these, the tongue is useless. The hyoid bone keeps the tongue in position to shoot. Because of these bones, the tongue doesn’t lose its elasticity, and you can see the chameleon’s tongue only when they are catching prey or drinking water.   

Only with the help of accelerator muscles, made up of crisscrossed fibers, chameleon’s lives are made smooth and have survived for generations. If the accelerator muscles were not there, the chameleon would have to move faster to catch prey.

How does the chameleon tongue work?

Chameleons have a special kind of muscles and bone, making the tongue incredible compared to any other species.

The tongue contracts and retracts when needed, and when the tongue is retracted, it gets attached to the hyoid bone in the chameleon’s throat. The tongue gets firmly attached to the hyoid bone in a curled manner and maintains the elasticity of the tongue.

Along with the hyoid bone, they have collagen tissue which works like a spring. When the chameleon shoots its tongue, the long accelerator muscles contract and the retractor muscle relaxes. When this happens, the accelerator muscles force against the collagen springs, which helps the chameleon shoot its tongue at a greater length and speed.

After catching the prey, the whole process gets reversed. The accelerator muscles relax, and the retractor muscle brings the tongue back to the position in the chameleon’s mouth.

Chameleon shoots the tongue on water droplets

This is completely normal behavior. Like cats and dogs, chameleons also use their tongue for drinking water. Sometimes they get closer to the water and drink, and sometimes when they see a droplet from a far distance, they shoot their tongue to catch the droplet.

Which type of chameleon has the longest tongue?

Among all other types of chameleons, there are few types that have a stronger and faster tongue compared to the others they are

  • Parson’s chameleon: One of the largest chameleons and shoots up to 4 feet.
  • Oustalet’s chameleon: One of the largest chameleons and shoots up to 4 feet.
  • Rhampholeon spinosus One of the smallest chameleons which has greater strength than any other chameleon type. They have 264 times greater acceleration than any object experiencing gravity.
    When an apple is falling, it has a greater acceleration than it would if you were throwing the apple upwards because the force of gravity is exerted upon it.
    When we compare the acceleration of the falling apple under gravity and this chameleon’s tongue acceleration, the tongue has a greater rate of acceleration. They can stretch their tongue two times longer than their body size.

Can a Chameleon lose its tongue?

Yes, apart from a traumatic injury, the chameleon can swallow its tongue and digest when the hyoid bones and the accelerator muscle don’t work. Hyoid bones are the ones that hold the tongue in a proper position. If that doesn’t work, then the tongue won’t stop at the hyoid bone while retracting but will instead go inside the stomach.

In this condition, a chameleon won’t be able to retract its tongue from the stomach as well. Instead, it will lose its tongue and digest it. There is no treatment for this condition, and when a chameleon loses its tongue, we have to hand feed them.

Chameleon Medicine

Tongue and Mouth Diseases in Chameleon(Stomatitis)

Tongue and Mouth Diseases in Chameleons (Stomatitis)

Stomatitis is a chameleon mouth disease that affects the oral cavity, tongue, palate, or esophagus. If untreated, this disease will spread and affect the jaw bone.

This disease is commonly caused by a lack of nutrition and improper supplementation.


Stomatitis may be caused by poor animal husbandry, poor nutrition, and bacterial infection. It could also be caused by improper phosphorus and calcium levels, deficiency in Vitamin C, poor temperature regulation, and overcrowding. Physical causes include trauma in the mouth due to a scratch or wound.


Early signs of this disease include a gum line stained with a brownish-yellow matter surrounding the periphery of the gums and teeth. Your chameleon may also have an occasional dehydrated film-like matter situated on the edge of the mouth and slight swelling of the lower jaw. Loss of appetite may also ensue if the infection is not treated on time.


Adequate monitoring of your chameleon for changes in gait, appetite, and level of activity. Also, keep the temperature at an optimum level as preferred by the species.

Your chameleon’s cage should also be adequately ventilated with a relative humidity level of about 50 to 75 percent. Feed your chameleon with various insects and ensure you dust the insects with calcium and vitamin powders.


The major treatment course involves the use of antibiotics injections. The vet may also prescribe an antibacterial solution on the affected area for a determined period. The temperature and other factors need to be adequately monitored during treatment.

Your chameleon may not be able to feed on its own adequately, so you may need to feed it with your hands. If the condition is severe or there is little response to treatment, your chameleon will have to undergo surgical removal of the infected bone or teeth.