Plethodontid salamanders of the genus Hydromantes capture prey using the most extreme tongue projection among salamanders, and can shoot the tongue a distance of 80% of body length in less than 20 msec. The tongue skeleton is projected from the body via an elastic-recoil mechanism that decouples muscle contraction from tongue projection, amplifying muscle power tenfold. We tested the hypothesis that the elastic-recoil mechanism also endows tongue projection with low thermal dependence by examining the kinematics and dynamics of tongue projection in Hydromantes platycephalus over a range of body temperatures (2-24°C). We found that H. platycephalus maintained tongue-projection performance over the tested temperature range and that tongue projection showed thermal independence (Q(10) values of 0.94-1.04) of all performance parameters including projection distance, average velocity, and peak instantaneous values of velocity, acceleration, and power. Nonelastic, muscle-powered tongue retraction, in contrast, responded to temperature changes significantly differently than elastic tongue projection; performance parameters of retraction displayed thermal dependence typical of muscle-powered movement (Q(10) values of 1.63-4.97). These results reveal that the elastic-recoil mechanism liberates tongue projection from the effects of temperature on muscle contractile rates. We suggest that relative thermal independence is a general characteristic of elastic-recoil mechanisms and may promote the evolution of these mechanisms in ectothermic animals.
2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley Company.