A frog uses its whip-like tongue to snag its prey faster than a human can blink, hitting it with a force five times greater than gravity. That’s according to researchers, who filmed frogs eating crickets in super-slow motion to help understand the physics of the tongue. They said that the frog’s tongue – which is 10 times softer than a human’s – stretches and stores energy much like a spring.
Alexis Noel, a mechanical engineering Ph.D. student at Georgia Tech, led the study, published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface on February 1, 2017. She said that tongue’s softness allows it to change shape during contact and immediately afterward while it’s retracting. Noel said in a statement:
The tongue acts like a bungee cord once it latches onto its prey.
The other vital component of the capturing process is the frog’s saliva, which is thick and sticky during prey capture, then turns thin and watery as prey is removed inside the frog’s mouth. Noel said:
There are actually three phases. When the tongue first hits the insect, the saliva is almost like water and fills all the bug’s crevices. Then, when the tongue snaps back, the saliva changes and becomes more viscous — thicker than honey, actually — gripping the insect for the ride back. The saliva turns watery again when the insect is sheared off inside the mouth.
Giant monkey frog captures prey in super-slow motion
Frog saliva pulled between parallel plates
Bottom line: Georgia Tech study looks at how a frog uses its tongue to capture its prey.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.