Morphology and function of the tongue and hyoid apparatus in Varanus (Varanidae, Lacertilia)

J Morphol. 1986 Mar;187(3):261-87. doi: 10.1002/jmor.1051870302.


The morphology and function of the tongue and hyoid apparatus in Varanus were examined by anatomical and experimental techniques. Morphological features unique to Varanus include a highly protrusible tongue that has lost a roughened dorsal surface, an exceptionally strong and mobile hyobranchial apparatus, a well-defined joint between the ceratohyal and anterior process, and a series of distinct muscles inserting at the anterior hyobranchial region. Varanus is also unusual among lizards in a number of feeding behaviors; it ingests prey entirely by inertial feeding, as the tongue does not participate in food transport. Further specializations include an increased reliance on hyobranchial movements in drinking and pharyngeal packing and compression. The long, narrow tongue is most likely related to the mechanics of tongue protrusion; the increased amount, strength, and complexity of hyobranchial movement is related to the fact that the hyobranchium in Varanus replaces the tongue in many functions. Previous hypotheses for the origin of these adaptations are discussed, and the difficulties of attributing these specializations to any specific scenario of adaptation or constraint are emphasized.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Lizards / anatomy & histology*
  • Muscles / anatomy & histology
  • Pharynx / anatomy & histology
  • Tongue / anatomy & histology
  • Tongue / physiology