Dandy Designs title

The Chameleon

Chameleons are amazing animals incredibly designed to feed in a remarkable way. Chameleons eat bugs. They do so by shooting their tongues out of their body and snagging the bug. Some chameleons can extend their tongues twice their body length and can do so in .07 seconds. Most of us know that frogs do something similar to this, but the chameleon has some remarkable design features that allow it to function in ways different from frogs. Chameleons have legs that allow them to climb and grip limbs or twigs. They have a tail that can be wrapped around a limb or twig for leverage and balance. Their skin can change color to match the environment they are in, giving them a very high level of camouflage.

Two of the most remarkable characteristics of the chameleon are its eyes and brain. The eyes can either work together or independently. They are located in ball sockets that rotate and the animal can look two completely different directions at once, thus finding prey and avoiding enemies in a highly efficient way. When the chameleon finds prey, both eyes will point toward the prey giving the chameleon stereoscopic vision which allows it to judge distance accurately and capture its food. For the eyes to be able to function both independently and together is unlike almost all other forms of life.

Recently researchers at the University of South Florida reported another amazing design in the chameleon. It had been noticed that even in very cold weather the chameleon could function even though it is a cold-blooded reptile. Why did the cold not slow down its ability to catch prey? It turns out that the tongue is made of collagen which uncoils on the basis of momentum, not muscle strength. This means that no muscles have to be used to get the prey. Reeling the tongue back in was significantly slowed (up to 63 percent), but that is not an issue in catching the prey. This animal, remarkably designed to secure its prey in a variety of conditions, speaks of a designer that used unique materials and engineering.

Source: Scientific American, May 2010, page 18, and online in the March 8, 2010 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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