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J Exp Zool A Ecol Integr Physiol. 2018 Feb;329(2):62-71. doi: 10.1002/jez.2171. Epub 2018 May 20.

Ballistic tongue projection in a miniaturized salamander.

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Department of Integrative Biology, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida.


Miniaturization of body size is often accompanied by peculiarities in morphology that can have functional consequences. We examined the feeding behavior and morphology of the miniaturized plethodontid salamander Thorius, one of the smallest vertebrates, to determine if its performance and biomechanics differ from those of its larger relatives. High-speed imaging and dynamics analysis of feeding at a range of temperatures show that tongue projection in Thorius macdougalli is ballistic and achieves accelerations of up to 600 G with low thermal sensitivity, indicating that tongue projection is powered by an elastic-recoil mechanism. Preceding ballistic projection is an unusual preparatory phase of tongue protrusion, which, like tongue retraction, shows lower performance and higher thermal sensitivity that are indicative of movement being powered directly by muscle shortening. The variability of tongue-projection kinematics and dynamics is comparable to larger ballistic-tongued plethodontids and reveals that Thorius is capable of modulating its tongue movements in response to prey distance. Morphological examination revealed that T. macdougalli possesses a reduced number of myofibers in the tongue muscles, a large projector muscle mass relative to tongue mass, and an unusual folding of the tongue skeleton, compared with larger relatives. Nonetheless, T. macdougalli retains the elaborated collagen aponeuroses in the projector muscle that store elastic energy and a tongue skeleton that is free of direct myofiber insertion, two features that appear to be essential for ballistic tongue projection in salamanders.


Thorius; amphibian; biomechanics; feeding; salamander; scaling


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