The cunning chameleon’s catapult.

A catapult is a machine with a stiff frame, allowing a large force to store energy in an elastic material, and then release it suddenly to accelerate a small mass to great speed. Of course, all the components must be in place for it to work at all.

A Closer Look at the Chameleon’s Terrific Tongue

The chameleon captures its prey with its tongue and can reach up to 1½ times the lizard’s body length. The acceleration of this ‘ballistic tongue’ is amazing—50 g (i.e. 50 times the acceleration due to gravity), while astronauts and jet fighter pilots will pass out at only 10 g—and that with special suits. The chameleon uses special super-contracting muscle, ‘unique among vertebrates’ and otherwise found only in invertebrates. This is necessary to maintain tension over the great changes in muscle length. Such is the amazing acceleration, researchers needed a special high-speed X-ray camera to film the tongue through its entire movement (including inside the mouth).

Suction Cup

Most lizards catch insects on their tongue just by the stickiness of the moist surface. But the chameleon’s fast tongue manages to capture large, smooth prey. It does this with yet another mechanism. Just before the tongue hits the prey, two muscles pull the central part of the tip backwards, forming a suction cup.


How does the tongue accelerate so much? Close analysis reveals that the chameleon tongue has an ingenious catapult system. It has a bone, which provides the stiff frame. Surrounding the bone are at least 10 slippery sheaths. These contain coiled collagen fibers, which are the elastic material. The sheaths in turn are surrounded by the powerful accelerator muscles, providing the stretching energy. When the chameleon wants to flick out its tongue, it activates these muscles.

An article in the journal Science said, ‘The chameleon’s “sliding spring” is remarkably compact, efficient and easy to control.’ It pointed out that the tongue projector was more efficient than a man-made catapult—the latter loads and releases the energy along the same path, while the chameleon tongue releases the energy in a different path. This means that the tongue needs no extra moving parts to release the tension suddenly, because the energy is released as the tongue slips off the bone. Also, while the acceleration is certainly sudden, the energy is still released steadily as the sheaths slide off in turn, rather than all at once. Otherwise a lot of the energy would be wasted in deforming the tongue and dissipated in vibrations.

Under the “Evolutionary” Hood

One of the papers on the tongue’s design had a curious section, ‘Evolutionary considerations’. The author admitted that the suction cup and the ballistic tongue are both essential to capture prey, i.e. one is useless without the other. Yet he interpreted this as evidence that they must have ‘evolved simultaneously . . . early in their evolutionary history.’ The author did not offer an explanation as to how this could happen. A far better interpretation is that chameleons have always been chameleons, and were designed with both these mechanisms fully functional.

There is a good lesson here. Practical biological research assumes that features of living things have a point, so it makes sense to find out how they work. This makes perfect sense if these features have been designed for a function. So, all the useful research was carried out as if the researchers were creationists for all practical purposes. But then evolutionists try to make up just-so stories to explain how these features evolved. Yet this extra ‘Evolutionary considerations’ section added nothing whatsoever of practical value, only empty speculation.1

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”

Psalm 90:2

References and Notes

  1. Sarfati, Jonathan D. By Design: Evidence for Nature’s Intelligent Designer – the God of the Bible. Creation Book Publishers, 2008.[]


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