Amazing Nature

Weaponised Tongues

Aug 2021
Author: Green Power
The chameleon catches its prey from a distance by shooting its tongue out at high speed
The chameleon can catch its prey from a distance by shooting its tongue out at high speed.
Photo from Pixabay

The tongue is an important organ in the human body. It is responsible for the sense of taste as well as swallowing food. Thousands of years of evolution have resulted in specialised tongues in different vertebrates. For some wild animals, the tongue serves as the hunting tool apart from feeding purpose. Let's check out some of these distinctive “weapons” for survival.

Tongue Cannon

The chameleon is best known for its ability to change colour and employ camouflage. Apart from self-protection, it is a powerful hunter with a specialised tongue. The super elastic accelerator muscle allows the chameleon to shoot its tongue out at a blinding speed of over 100 km/hour, much like the firing of a cannon. It is one of the fastest weapons for hunting in nature. With its excellent vision, the chameleon can snatch its prey from a distance with the “quick tongue”. The tongue also has a sticky surface, and a tip that sticks to its target by suction. There is no escape for the prey.

A Giant Anteater Myrmecophaga tridactyla sticks out its extra-long tongue
Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) possesses an extra-long tongue for feeding on termites in their nests.
© ellen @ Wikipedia

Agile Long Tongue

In human society, “long tongue” is a derogatory term used to describe someone who is excessively talkative. But in the world of wild animals, a long tongue is a highly prized hunting tool. Giant Anteater (Myrmecophaga tridactyla) possesses an agile tongue that can reach over half metre in length, which is an efficient feeding tool. The Giant Anteater uses its claws to bash into termite nests and laps up the frenzied termites with its sticky tongue. The long tongue sweeps over a large area and with the rapid swallowing, the Giant Anteater can almost exterminate a whole ant colony in each feeding. Scientists have therefore suggested making use of Giant Anteater for biological control of pests.

An Alligator Snapping Turtle Macrochelys temminckii open its mouth and sticks out its worm-like tongue
Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) lures prey with its worm-like tongue.
© Jo Naylor

Tongue Trap

Alligator Snapping Turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) is one of the most ferocious predators in the world. Studies have shown that the biting power of an adult turtle exceeds 400 kg, which can easily crush a whole watermelon. Despite the powerful jaws, Alligator Snapping Turtle moves slowly and can only passively wait for its prey to come close, within striking distance. It performs “lingual luring” by opening wide its mouth and displaying the pale pink tongue which resembles a worm wriggling in the water. Prey is then attracted to the bait. Similar aggressive mimicry is also employed by some freshwater snakes. We are not sure, though, which was the first to develop this technique.