Reptiles vary greatly in size and shape, thanks to millions of years of evolutionary fine-tuning. Among their many intriguing features, one that stands out in particular is their tongues.
These versatile muscles play crucial roles, from helping them sense their surroundings to capturing prey. What’s even more interesting is that these tongues aren’t all the same. Some are long, some are split, some are sticky, and some are colored! Each one is tailored to suit the specific needs of the reptile.
So, if you’re here reading this, a question that may have crossed your mind could be:
What are some reptiles with long tongues?
Chameleons, snakes, monitor lizards, Gila monsters, blue-tongued skinks, and geckos have longer tongues than other reptile species. Chameleons are known to have the longest tongues in the world, reaching more than twice the size of their body, while snakes and monitor lizards have long forked tongues to help sense their surroundings and capture their prey.
In this article, we’ll discuss six reptile species with long tongues and also reveal the reptile with the longest tongue of them all. But before we get into that, let’s explore a little more about the various sizes, types, and functions of the world’s reptilian tongues.
Tongues Of The Reptile World
While reptile tongues come in all different shapes and sizes, most species use their tongues for the same key functions. A reptile’s tongue can allow it to smell and get a sense of its surroundings, capture prey, or even communicate with other members of its species.
If you’ve ever observed a lizard or snake closely, you’ve probably noticed how they frequently flick their tongues in and out of their mouths. This is actually how they smell and get a sense of the environment around them.
Nestled in the roof of their mouths is an incredible sensory organ called the Jacobson’s Organ. When a lizard or snake flicks their tongue, they collect scent particles from the air and ground.
These scent particles then travel to the Jacobson’s Organ, which acts like a high-tech chemical analyzer, allowing them to detect and interpret scents in a way that goes beyond your average nose.
This extraordinary sense helps them to track down prey, find potential mates, and navigate their world with impressive precision.
Another key function, many reptiles use their tongues for is hunting. Some species, like chameleons and geckos, have super sticky tongues that they shoot out of their mouths, perfect for snatching up prey in the blink of an eye.
And lastly, certain species use tongue gestures to communicate with each other or to ward off predators. Specific tongue movements can signal territorial boundaries, courtship interest, or aggression from one lizard to another.
6 Reptiles With Long Tongues
Now that we know a bit more about the diverse functionality of many reptile tongues, let’s check out six different species that have evolved to have impressively long tongues.
The chameleon’s tongue is one of the most remarkable in the animal kingdom. These color-changing lizards can shoot their tongues out at lightning speeds of up to 8,500 feet per second, reaching lengths of over twice their body size!
This earns them the title of having the longest and fastest tongue of any species on the planet.
Chameleons have evolved this super-powered tongue for one critical reason – survival. Their specialized swiveling eyes make them epic ambush hunters, but chameleons aren’t known for their speed.
So, they need a secret weapon to actually capture the insects they target, once they’ve got them in their focus.
That’s where their super long and sticky, mucus-coated tongue comes in. It shoots out like a missile, snatching up unsuspecting insects before they even realize what happened. Within a fraction of a second, the chameleon is chomping down on its yummy meal.
This incredible feature allows chameleons to hunt prey from a much farther distance than other lizards, which is essential for these stealthy hunters to get the nutrients they need.
Have you ever noticed how a snake flicks its long, forked tongue in and out of its mouth repeatedly? This seemingly simple action is an essential tool snakes use to navigate and understand the world around them.
When a snake’s elongated tongue is flicked into the air, it actively collects tiny scent particles that carry crucial information about its surroundings. This unique adaptation equips the snake with an extraordinary sense of smell, allowing it to detect nearby prey, potential mates, or even predators in the area.
As the tongue extends out, the two forked tips separate, creating an expanded surface area that can sweep up odor molecules from various directions. This is like having two specialized scent receptors in one, allowing the snake to get a sense of more of the area.
The snake’s tongue then quickly retracts back into its mouth, delivering the collected scent particles to a specialized sensory organ known as the Jacobson’s Organ. Here, the snake is able to meticulously analyze the smells to gain valuable intel about its surroundings.
Unlike humans who rely on their noses for smelling, snakes have learned to rely on their two-pronged tongues as mobile scent detectors.
So, the next time you see a snake flickering its tongue as it slithers about, think about the incredible way it gathers and interprets vital information about its ever-changing environment!
3. Monitor Lizards
Monitor lizards are also equipped with an impressive forked tongue that plays a crucial role in their daily exploration and survival. This unique feature enables these gigantic reptiles to efficiently navigate their domain, whether in search of prey or steering clear of potential competitors.
When a monitor lizard flicks its lengthy, snake-like tongue, it serves as a highly effective scent detector that comes in handy when tracking down their next meal.
Similarly to a snake, a monitor lizard will flick its long tongue into the air, collecting molecules that stick to the two prongs of the tongue. Using the Jacobson’s Organ, the scents then offer helpful guidance for locating delicious-smelling insects, small mammals, or hidden eggs to devour.
Not only useful for sensing food, a monitor lizard can also use its tongue to snatch up prey once spotted. The tongue can reach pretty par, acting like a lasso to snag and bind onto unsuspecting critters on the ground.
This versatile tongue usage gives monitor lizards a leg up in both finding and catching a wide variety of prey.
4. Gila Monsters
Gila monsters are highly venomous lizards native to the dry and arid deserts of the Southwestern United States. Much like their reptilian counterparts, Gila monsters feature extra lengthy tongues, primarily used for scent detection and hunting capabilities.
A Gila monster’s tongue is distinct in more ways than one, even setting it apart from the other reptiles with long tongues on this list. Its tongue is notably fleshier and thicker than the tongues of snakes or monitor lizards, which adds to its efficiency in capturing scents from its surroundings.
Another distinctive difference a Gila monster has is that its tongue comes in various colors, ranging from black to blue, depending on the lizard.
A Gila monster’s sense of smell is so sharp that it can sniff out meals that seem impossible to find, even in the harshest environments. Using its long, forked tongue, a Gila monster can locate hidden nests of eggs buried up to six inches underground!
This masterful ability makes these reptiles equipped to uncover meals that other lizards could never detect, and it also shows just how well Gila monsters have adapted to their arid desert habitat.
5. Blue-Tongued Skinks
The blue-tongued skink is often a sought-after exotic pet named for its most eye-catching feature – its bright blue tongue! Yet, in their native habitat of Australia, these unique lizards rely on their tongues in the wild for far more than just looks.
These long, colorful tongues play a crucial role in helping them track down insects to munch on and attracting potential mates. However, the vibrant blue color serves a dual purpose as a vital defense tactic as well.
When faced with being targeted by a predator, the blue-tongued skink will open its mouth and flash its long, bright blue tongue. This unexpected display serves as a shock tactic, meant to surprise the predator and warn that they’ve picked the wrong lizard to mess with.
Typically, the startled predator hesitates, giving the skink a window of opportunity to scamper off and find somewhere safe to hide. It’s a very interesting and unique survival technique these skinks have learned to use as they have evolved over time.
Although geckos don’t have tongues as long as some of the other reptiles on our list, their tongues are certainly long enough to satisfy their needs.
A gecko’s tongue serves a multi-faceted purpose. Not only do they use their tongues to snatch up insects and satisfy their hunger needs, but they also use their tongues to drink water, similar to how dogs do.
Have you ever seen a pet leopard gecko lapping up water from a shallow water dish or bowl? It’s just about the cutest little thing you ever will see!
Geckos also use their lengthy tongues to groom themselves by licking their face, eyes, and skin. This helps to keep them clean and to moisten the skin when they’re preparing for the shedding process.
So, although a gecko’s tongue may not reach epic lengths like a chameleon’s, it is still long enough to serve many important purposes, like eating, drinking, and self-grooming.
Which Reptiles Have Tongues Longer Than Their Body?
In the world of reptiles, there is only one standout when it comes to their tongue length being longer than their body, and that is the chameleon.
As I mentioned earlier, chameleons hold the record for having the longest and fastest tongue of any species on the planet. That’s pretty amazing!
Their exceptionally long and sticky tongues remain neatly coiled up inside their bodies until they’re ready to hunt for their meal. When they spot a tasty target, they unleash their tongues at lightning-fast speeds.
What’s most astonishing is that their tongues can extend to up to 2.5 times the length of their entire body. A full-grown male panther chameleon, for example, has a tongue about 45-50 inches long. That’s more than 4 feet!
And if you were to apply that number to humans, that would make our tongues anywhere from 12 to 15 feet long! Pretty crazy, right?
This fantastic ability gives chameleons an impressive hunting advantage, allowing them to stay safely concealed in a tree while their tongues strike their prey from a distance.
No other lizard in the world possesses a tongue that stretches beyond their body length to this extent, making it one of the chameleon’s most distinctive and extraordinary features.
So, there you have it, a fascinating glimpse into the world of reptiles with long tongues – each one with its own unique features that help it to thrive in its individual habitat.
While not all lizards sport lengthy tongues, those that do gain some valuable advantages. From the striking length of the chameleon tongue to the long, forked tongues of snakes and other lizards, we’ve learned how these reptiles use their disproportionately long tongues in a variety of remarkable ways.
Every species, no matter how big or how small, or how seemingly ordinary, has its own unique set of skills and adaptations that make it perfectly suited to its natural environment.
These special traits show the amazing variety and cleverness in the reptile world, highlighting the wonders of the animal kingdom.