The strongest tongues in the savannah


SCIENTISTS define the tongue as a muscular hydrostat, it is a biological structure found in animals and a primary organ which is used to manipulate different items including food and others into the mouth.

A tongue is made by more than eight flexible muscles and consists of a huge number of blood veins and nerves which enable it to taste different flavour from different items brought into the mouth.

From its base on a hyoid bone, the humans tongue may grow up to ten centimetres but into the savannah small mammals like ground African pangolin which weighs between 15 and 18 kilogrammes has one of longest tongues in the whole of savannah.

From its base in the thorax between the sternum and the trachea and with a diametre of only 0.5 centimetre, when stretched the tongue of a pangolin is capable for capturing an insect crawling up to 40 centimetres away from the point where this nocturnal mammal is standing in the middle of savannah inside Mikumi, Saadani or Ruaha National Park.

Scientists estimate that wherever they are found African ground pangolins have one most efficient tongue in the whole world because an individual is capable of capturing insects which weigh between 140 and 200 grams a night.

In western circuit where beautiful national parks such as Katavi, Gombe stream and Mahale mountain are found, an endemic specie of tree pangolin is flourishing thanks to conservation efforts from the government.

Tree pangolins grow until they are 98.5 centimetres long from the heat to the edge of their tail which enable them to carry a tongue which stretches from 10 to 49.5 centimetres and capable of capturing about 70 million insects a year.

Like in any other mammal, reptile and avian the tongue of a pangolin function effectively because of a reliable supply of saliva from powerful glands located in different parts of the mouth which has no teeth.

The tongue of a pangolin is covered is coated with gummy mucus used to trap insects before they are funneled quickly into its mouth where a flexible mechanism is applied to send them into digestion and absorption system.

The tree pangolin is an insectivore which eats insects such as ants and termites from their nests or the armies of insects moving on the trees. It relies on its thick skin for protection and digs into burrows with its long, clawed forefeet.

From Rumanyika, Kimisi and Burigi game reserves in Kagera Region and other animal sanctuaries in the country, zoologists say pangolins pull back and roll to place their tongue deep into the chest cavity.

In the northwestern Tanzania this species is little more free but in Mahale, Katavi national parks and Luafi game reserve on the shore of lake Rukwa the tree pangolin is competing for food with an aardvark a mammal which stands 60 centimetres tall and weighs between 60 and 80 kilogrammes.

From about 66 to 56 million years ago, an aardvark went through different morphological changes which enabled this unique mammal to adapt special features which coped with the environment that changed dramatically.

Paleontologists say, to cope with these changes, the body of an ancestors of modern aardvark go through convergent evolution process which enables the mammal to adapt rabbit like long ears capable to peak sound of an approaching enemy quickly.

Their heads became elongated and equipped with flexible nasal with thick nostrils protected by long hairs which block debris from entering into the lungs.

Aardvark’s noses are made up by nine turbinate bones which provide good space for a moist epithelium, this condition function superbly with nine olfactory bulb of nose than in any mammal in the entire savannah.

These features enable the aardvark to have a powerful sense of smell which capable to locate termites and ants crawling underground or an enemy from any direction. For security reasons, Aardvarks wore tough skin which is covered by clusters of pale yellowish-gray furs with with yellow and white tinges which make them to look like pigs.

The climatic and ecological changes of the Paleocene pushed ancestors of an aardvark into a point of do or die, through convergent evolution they were able to adapt new physical and chemical ability in their digestive system.

While the number of vegetation species was dwindling, this capability helped the ancestors of aardvark to shift from living by eating grasses and specialized in feeding on termites and ants.

Their tongue was modified to a snake like figure which is flexible and capable of being stretched out of 30 centimetres out of the mouth. Aardvark live in a home range covering between 2.5 and 5.5 square kilometres where different records show by using its long tongue the mammal is capable to trap and eat more than 50,000 termites in a single night.

The climatic and ecological changes which happened between 66 to 56 million years ago did not only affect aardvark because ancestors of modern giraffe were also pushed through different morphological changes.

Their necks were elongated while the tongues became long, flexible and capable of stretching up to 45 centimetres long to collect nutritious foliages on top of a tall tree.

These changes enabled the tallest animal to outsmart all other herbivorous including an elephant the biggest land animal which has a tongue weighing not less than 12 kilogrammes.

This is one of the largest tongues on Earth which works with the trunk to enable the heaviest land animal consume about 250 kilogrammes of food a day. Among a long list of avian, mammals and reptiles in the tropical savannah, Chameleons have very good eyesight which enable them see a small insect crawling on a leaf five to ten metres away.

Zoologists say as an insectivore, the Chameleon is a reptile which depends on insects as their primary diet using its sticky, long and elastic tongue.

Just like in other animals, the tongues of Chameleons have a primary function of finding tastes of various types of food taken into the mouth, positioning food for chewing and pushing the grinded food backward for swallowing.

Among Chameleons, the tongue is used as weapon to capture and hold the prey into the mouth where the crushing, grinding and swallowing takes place. Scientists say the length of Chameleons tongue is one and a half to two times the length of their bodies excluding the tail, small species are said to have longer tongues than the bigger ones.

The small species of Chameleons also have a great ability to project their tongue like a ballistic missile into a great distant to capture an insect standing more than 7.5 millimetres away.

As quick as a flash light, Chameleons are capable to project their tongue rapidly to capture a prey after a short period of 0.07 seconds. This is mechanism which amplifier power from a stored energy which begins when muscles on the tongue contracts back into the mouth where it’s relaxed.

Once the energy is completely stored, the joints of small bones inside the tongue release it in a short period through a network of muscles. Chameleons utilise the elastic mechanisms to produce mass specific power outputs more than five times higher than those reported for most fast muscles in any other organism.

Frogs also use their tongue to capture prey while snakes collect information around their localities using their forked tongue but big cats such as cheetah, leopard and lions use their tongue to take water into their mouth.

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