World's Fastest Muscle (In the tongue of a salamander)

Sunday, 5 September 2010

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We all know chameleons, especially for some of their performances, like
the ability of changing color or for their special hunting technique. 

While the ability of changing color is not so singular
in the animal world (many fishes, cephalopods like octopuses and squids,
or even other lizards have it), their technique of projecting an
enormously long sticky tongue is regarded by many as very specific. 

That's wrong, as exactly the same method of catching prey is employed by a group of salamanders from the Americas.

a new research at University of South Florida found an unusual record
for these animals: the giant palm salamander of Central America shoots
out its tongue with the fastest speed developed by any known muscle in
the animal world.

The species, Bolitoglossa dofleini,
can shoot out its tongue at 18,000 watts of power per muscular kilogram,
about twice more than the power output broken out by the previous
record detainer, the Colorado River toad Bufo alvarius.

extends its tongue (which measures more than half of its body length)
in about 7 milliseconds, 50 times faster than an eye blink. The research
team employed high-speed video cameras and electrodes implanted in the
salamanders' tongue muscles to check the animals' performances as they
hunted live crickets.

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The fact that the tongues were propelled outward much faster than by
sheer muscle contraction made the researchers suppose there must be an
unknown elastic tissue connected to the salamander's tongue that stores
up the energy amounts required by the explosive projection. 

process can be compared to the stretching and shooting of a rubber
band: the recoil occurs faster than the act of releasing a rubber band
pulled taut. "The amount of energy doesn't change; it's just released
faster," said lead researcher Stephen Deban. 

systems found in other species is formed by three components: a motor
to produce energy, a spring to store it and a latch to control the
unloading of the spring, but by now only the motor in the salamander
system has been found. "What remains to be discovered are the anatomical
structures that make up the spring and the latch" said Deban.

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