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Salamander's Cartilage Is Key to its Tongue-Expelling Skill

September 04, 1997|From Times staff and wire reports

Although most salamanders flick their tongues out to catch insects, researchers from UC Berkeley have discovered one that shoots its tongue out in much the same way that a human shoots a watermelon seed by squeezing it between two fingers. Biologists Stephen M. Deban and David B. Wake report in Nature that the 2 1/2-inch-long lungless salamander from Sardinia can shoot its tongue out two full inches.

The lungless salamander, which breathes through its skin, has tongue cartilage shaped like a pair of tweezers, with the two prongs facing the tail. When fully retracted, the cartilage nestles in a spiraling sheath of muscle fibers. When they contract, they squeeze the prongs and shoot the cartilage--and the tongue--out of the mouth.

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