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Anat Rec. 1998 Sep;252(1):102-16.

Tongue flicking in agamid lizards: morphology, kinematics, and muscle activity patterns.

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Department of Biology, University of Antwerp (UIA), Belgium.


We wanted to examine whether a relation between foraging strategy, morphology, the mechanics of tongue protrusion, and prey chemical detection and discrimination exists in agamid lizards. Tongue-flick behavior was observed in two species of this family: Uromastix acanthinurus and Plocederma stellio. Potential prey chemical discrimination by means of tongue flicking was examined by using applicator tests. Tongue flicks were subsequently recorded by high-speed video in combination with the electrical activity of a number of jaw and hyolingual muscles. The kinematics of jaws and tongue and the muscle activity patterns were quantified. To investigate if the observed differences in tongue-flick behavior (mainly in the frequency of use) are translated into corresponding differences in tongue morphology, the tongues of both species were examined by light and scanning electron microscopy. The species differed mainly in the surface morphology of the foretongue and in the abundance and distribution of taste buds on the tongue and oral cavity. These differences can be related to behavioural observations; whereas U. acanthinurus readily uses tongue flicks to detect and discriminate between food items, P. stellio does not. However, differences in tongue-flick mechanics (kinematics, electromyograms) between both species were minor. Based on the data gathered in this study and from previously published data, an evolutionary transformation series leading to the complex tongue-flick cycles as observed in snakes is proposed. The required morphological and mechanical changes that accompany such an evolutionary sequence are discussed.

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