Friday, 14 October 2011

Salamander's elastic tongue powered by 'coiled spring'

Salamanders can snatch up prey in a few thousandths of a second - striking out with elastic tongues.

Scientists have now found that the amphibians, which depend on the ambient temperature to heat their muscles, maintain this strike speed in the cold.

But, as footage of the animals has revealed, low temperatures do slow the retraction of their deadly tongues.

The findings are reported in the Journal of Experimental Zoology.

Dr Stephen Deban from the University of South Florida had already studied this effect in other amphibians and reptiles.

"We previously found that tongue projection in toads and chameleons is independent - or nearly so - of temperature," Dr Deban told BBC Nature.

"We then turned to some older films we had of salamanders."

He and his colleague, Jason Richardson, focused on Hydromantes platycephalus, a salamander species that can shoot its tongue a distance of 80% of its body length in less than 20 thousandths of a second.

They filmed super slow-motion footage of the animals as they struck out at fly larvae on a platform in front of them.

The scientists wanted to know if, like in toads and chameleons, the muscles that powered the tongue's projection acted like a coiling spring - storing up energy then suddenly letting go and releasing the tongue at extremely high speed.

They studied the animals as they snatched up the larvae over a ranged of temperatures - from 2C to 24C. The salamanders projected their tongues just as quickly and just as far over the whole of this temperature range.

Read on...

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