If you’re an unwary fly, here’s a tongue-lashing you won’t see coming. A study of chameleons’ stretchy tongues has found that smaller species, some the size of your thumb, can hurl their sticky lockers with blazing-fast accelerations — up to 264 times the force of gravity.

That, for the record, is roughly five times as fast as larger chameleons. The findings, published in Scientific Reports, sheds light on how these animals seem to surpass the limitations of their muscle cells. For one thing, it simply has more tongue relative to its body length than larger chameleons. But the smaller animals’ tongues were actually speedier because they could take advantage of the elastic recoil of their muscle tissue, not just the capability of the muscle cells alone.

“By using elastic tissues like tendons or other tissues that have elastic properties, these animals are able to amplify the performance that they produce during movement,” aid study author Christopher Anderson, a functional morphologist at Brown University. “And that’s what’s happening during tongue projection in chameleons: They get such high performance because the muscles are loading energy into elastic tissues before they actually project the tongue.”

 

Five supersize stars are found

Scientists have discovered five supersize stars in other galaxies on a par with the monstrous stellar system in our own Milky Way.

Eta Carinae is the brightest and most massive star system within 10,000 light-years of us. The binary system is located in the southern constellation of Carina, a ship’s keel, and outshines our own sun by 5 million times.

Rubab Khan, a researcher at NASA’s Goddard Space Center in Maryland, reported on the discovery of five “Eta twins.” The Hubble Space Telescope and NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope helped identify them. Khan says the discovery will shed light on the evolution of these stellar heavyweights.

 

Making concrete from Martial soil

If humans were to attempt to colonize Mars, transporting construction materials will be difficult and expensive.

Researchers at Northwestern University have proposed an alternative, a kind of concrete that can be made with materials from Mars itself: sulfur and Martian soil.

The sulfur concrete is almost as strong as conventional concrete, durable in acid and salt environments, and entirely recyclable, the researchers say. Sulfur has been used as a bonding agent since ancient times.

 

Romans suffered many infections

Two thousand years ago, the ancient Romans introduced public multiseat toilets, hand-washing stations, sewage systems, aqueducts for drinking water, and heated public baths. A study finds that despite these sanitation advances, Romans of the time suffered just as many, if not more, parasites and ectoparasites, like lice and fleas, as their counterparts in the preceding Iron Age.

The study by Piers Mitchell, a paleopathologist at the University of Cambridge in Britain, is the first to use archaeological evidence to assess how Roman practices affected health. Mitchell looked for evidence of parasites in ancient latrines, human burial sites, fossilized feces, and in combs and textiles from excavation sites across Europe.

The study found that fish tapeworm eggs in particular were very widespread in Europe during the era of the Roman Empire. Romans were fond of a fish sauce called garum, Mitchell said. The sauce was not cooked, which might have destroyed the tapeworms, but fermented in the sun. “They used it to dip bread into, and it was traded across the empire,” Mitchell said. “There have been sunken Roman ships discovered with jars of lots of garum.”

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