Salamander Tongue Is World's Most Explosive Muscle

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Crickets and cockroaches have sensors capable of detecting tiny air currents generated by an incoming tongue. Those sensors are linked directly to muscles used in escape, Deban explained.

But salamanders aren't the only creatures that add a "spring-loaded" charge to their raw muscle power.

Similar mechanisms have been found in the legs of turkeys and frogs and in the tongues of chameleons.

(Read a related story about chameleon tongues and other "evolutionary oddities.")

Deban noted that the greatest power output from muscle acting alone has been measured in quail as they flap their wings in vertical takeoff.

"The salamander muscle produces 16 times the peak instantaneous power output of the quail, albeit by using the trick of elastic storage," Deban said, referring to the mechanism that fires the salamander's muscular "bow."

Kiisa Nishikawa, of Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, has studied ballistic prey capture in toads.

She noted that the giant palm salamander's record-setting power is partly a matter of its size—despite its name, the salamander is only a few inches long—since smaller animals tend to be proportionally stronger.

"A toad with the same body mass as Bolitoglossa would have a similarly high power output," she said.

Nishikawa said that an added feature of the salamander's quick tongue is the lizard's habit of sitting tight until an insect wanders by, rather than chasing after prey and risking the attention of larger predators.

Study leader Deban agreed.

"They are slow-moving animals in every way except with regard to their tongues," he said.

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