Frogs' Tongues Can Lift Three Times Their Weight

Beware the frog's tongue -- it holds the power to tackle things much bigger than the frog, itself. Continue reading →

Could you bench press three times your weight - with your tongue? An experiment with horned frogs shows these amphibians' tongues are just that strong.

O.K., they weren't exactly doing bench presses, but an experiment with horned frogs measured the power of their tongues by placing a tasty cricket behind a glass slide. When the frogs' tongues shot out at lightning speed to grab the crickets, a transducer attached to the slide recorded the forces exerted by the frog's tongue.

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The South American horned frog is known for its incredible snatching power - it has been observed slurping up whole mice in the wild. A study published in the journal Scientific Reports, suggests the tongue functions similar to sticky tape.

Thomas Kleinteich at the University of Kiel in Germany used four horned frogs purchased from local pet shops. Even these domesticated versions displayed incredible tongue power and speed. The forces measured from their tongues were on average larger than the weight of the frog itself, and more than three times bigger in the case of one of the younger frogs.

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"The thing that's interesting about frog tongues is that they're really fast," he told BBC News. "It only takes milliseconds."

Of course, force, alone, can't capture a cricket or mouse. That also requires some stick, which, in the case of the frog, comes in the form of mucus. Interestingly, the researchers found that less may be more when it comes to mucus and grabbing power.

"The common belief is... that the mucus acts as some sort of superglue," Dr Kleinteich told the BBC. "But what we found was actually that we got higher adhesive forces in trials where we found less mucus. That was quite interesting."

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Kleinteich likened the function of the frog's mucus-coated tongue to that of sticky tape, where both the structure of the tape and the stickiness play a role - not stickiness alone.

"So to actually establish the contact, there might be very little mucus involved," he explained.

Dr. Kleinteich and his group are now doing further analysis of the frog's tongue to better understand its gripping mechanics. It's all part of an effort to find new and better ways to make products like boot soles, tape and seals grip and stick.

Photo: A great-horned frog. Credit: ThinkStock – via BBC.