Catching a Sticky Predator in the Act

chameleon tongue

In December 2011, Italian photographer Giovanni Mari took off on a photo expedition to eastern Madagascar. While walking in the forests of Andasibe-Mantadia, Mari spotted a massive Parson’s chameleon clasping a low branch in full sunlight. It felt like a gift.

“Parson’s chameleons are normally found hunched amidst the shadowy depths of dark rain forests,” Mari says. “Having so great an opportunity with such a beautiful specimen—and the ideal level of light,” he adds, inspired him to spend an entire morning taking shots of the chameleon’s ticking, light-speed movements as it snatched bugs from the air.

The chameleon’s bulbous, sticky tongue was incredibly fast. Mari shot in 8-frames-per-second bursts at a shutter speed of 1/1250; only one shot showed the tongue extension. Right before each strike, the chameleon exposed a small part of its tongue for one or two seconds, giving Mari the barest sliver of time in which to press the shutter release.

Like lemurs, the radiated tortoise and most Malagasy species, Parson’s chameleons are endemic to Madagascar, meaning they can only be found living naturally in the wild on this one island. Unfortunately, like much of the island’s unique wildlife, they are threatened by deforestation and wildlife trade.

Learn more about Madagascar.

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