Iguanian lizards generally use their tongue to capture prey. Because lingual prehension is based on surface phenomena (wet adhesion, interlocking), the maximal prey size that can be captured is small. However, published records show that prey items eaten by chameleons include small vertebrates such as lizards and birds, indicating that these lizards are using a different prey prehension mechanism. Using high-speed video recordings, cineradiography, electromyography, nerve transection and stimulation experiments, we investigated the function of the tongue during prey capture. The results of these experiments indicate that chameleons have modified the primitive iguanian system by including a suction component in their prehension mechanism. Suction is generated by the activity of two modified intrinsic tongue muscles that pull the tongue pad inwards. Moreover, we demonstrate that the mechanism described here is a prerequisite for successful feeding.

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