Salamander Tongue Is World's Most Explosive Muscle

Scott Norris
for National Geographic News
March 9, 2007

The greatest burst of power from any animal muscle comes from the tongue of a tropical salamander, scientists have announced.

The giant palm salamander of Central America (Bolitoglossa dofleini) captures fast-moving bugs with an explosive tongue thrust that releases over 18,000 watts of power per kilogram of muscle.

That shatters the previous record of 9,600 watts per kilogram, held by the Colorado River toad.

Stephen Deban of the University of South Florida in Tampa said the secret to the tiny salamander's strength lies in its "ballistic" tongue-firing mechanism.

His team used high-speed video and implanted electrodes to study the prey-catching behavior of several related salamander species.

Much like an arrow shot from a bow, Deban said, the giant palm salamander's bony tongue is launched with an initial burst of energy and flies forward under its own momentum.

The "bow" is provided by elastic fibers in the salamander's mouth that stretch to store muscular energy and then release it all at once.

"You can pull the string back as slowly as you like, but when you let it go, the arrow achieves a much higher rate of energy release," Deban said.

The team's findings appeared in the February 15 issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Built for Speed

The salamander's ballistic firing permits the tongue's sticky-padded tip to reach prey in just a few thousandths of a second, Deban's team said.

Such speed is critical for overcoming the countermeasures evolved by some insects.

Continued on Next Page >>


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