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Tiny Chameleons Have the Most Powerful Tongues

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When a chameleon sticks out its tongue, the organ acts more like a bullet than a muscle. The lizard can ballistically project its tongue up to twice its body length, at speeds much faster than what's possible with the muscle contractions other species use. However, tongue power is not equal among chameleon species. Smaller chameleons’ tongues have some of the fastest accelerations and greatest power outputs of any animal movements around, according to a new study in Scientific Reports

The study, by Brown University’s Christopher Anderson, documented the feeding behaviors of 20 chameleon species. Watching through a high-speed camera as 55 different chameleons nabbed their prey 279 times, he found that smaller chameleons could throw their tongues as far as 2.5 times their body length. The tiny Rhampholeon spinosus chameleon’s tongue accelerated at a rate 264 times greater than the acceleration an object experiences from gravity at sea level. That’s the equivalent of a car going 0 to 60 miles per hour in one-hundredth of a second. By contrast, the tongue of a two-foot-long chameleon experienced 18 percent less acceleration. 

The power and acceleration necessary to create that kind of movement is, proportionally, one of the greatest outputs seen in any vertebrate. The R. spinosus chameleon, an endangered chameleon only a few inches long, used a power output of 14,040 watts per kilogram (an ability second only to a salamander).

The smaller the chameleon, the higher the peak acceleration, relative power, and extension distance its tongue was capable of, Anderson found. 

Because many studies of chameleons have focused on larger species, which have proportionally smaller tongues than their more miniature relatives, the animals' abilities have probably been underestimated in the past. This study shows that to truly figure out what these creatures can do, you’d better look to the little guys. 

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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