The kinematics of prey capture by the chamaeleonid lizard Chamaeleo oustaleti were studied using high-speed cinematography. Three feeding sequences from each of two individuals were analyzed for strike distances of 20 and 35 cm, at 30°C. Ten distances and angles were measured from sequential frames beginning approximately 0.5 s prior to tongue projection and continuing for about 1.0 s. Sixteen additional variables, documenting maximum excursions and the timing of events, were calculated from the kinematic profiles. Quantified descriptions of head, hyoid and tongue movements are presented. Previously unrecognized rapid protraction of the hyobranchial skeleton simultaneously with the onset of tongue projection was documented and it is proposed that this assists the accelerator muscle in powering tongue projection. Acceleration of the tongue occurred in about 20ms, reaching a maximum acceleration of 486 m s−2 and maximum velocity of 5.8m s−1 in 35 cm strikes. Deceleration of the tongue usually began within 5 ms before prey contract and the direction of tongue movement was reversed within 10 ms of prey contact. Retraction of the tongue, caused by shortening of the retractor muscles, reached a maximum velocity of 2.99 ms−1 and was complete 330 ms after prey contact. Projection distance influences many aspects of prey capture kinematics, particularly projection time, tongue retraction time and the extent of gape and head movements during tongue retraction, all of which are smaller in shorter feedings. Though several features of the chameleon strike have apparently been retained from lizards not capable of ballistic tongue projection, key differences are documented. Unlike members of a related family, the Agamidae, C. oustaleti uses no body lunge during prey capture, exhibits gape reduction during tongue projection and strongly depresses the head and jaws during tongue retraction.


Present address: Department of Biological Sciences, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306, USA.

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