Anderson analyzed 20 species of chameleons of varying sizes. He perched each individual in front of a camera that shoots 3,000 frames per second. Anderson then dangled a cricket off of a mesh in front of each chameleon to trigger the tongue action.
Chameleon Colors Act Like a Mood Ring: Photos
For a tiny species like Rhampholeon spinosus, the total tongue power was measured to be 14,040 watts per kilogram. Put into automotive terms, the chameleon's tongue could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in a hundredth of a second. It only needed about 20 milliseconds, though, to snag a cricket.
What's more, the tiny chameleon could stick out its tongue to 2.5 times its body length. Most of the tongue motion is pre-loaded into elastic tissues.
Larger chameleons produced impressive motions as well, but not when compared to their smaller cousins. For example, a roughly 2-foot-long species, Furcifer oustaleti, managed a peak acceleration less than 18 percent than that of the tiny title holder.
Anderson explained that the smaller chameleons need to consume more energy per body weight to survive. They therefore must be especially good at catching their insect meals.