The chameleon tongue apparatus consists of highly modified hyoid bones, tongue muscles and collagenous elements. The hyoid bone has an elongated, parallel-sided projection, called the entoglossal process, over which a tubular muscle, the accelerator muscle, sits. The accelerator muscle contracts around the entoglossal process and is responsible for creating the work to power tongue projection, both directly and through the loading of collagenous elements located between the entoglossal process and the accelerator muscle. The tongue retractor muscle, the hyoglossus, connects the hyoid and accelerator muscle, and is responsible for drawing the tongue back into the mouth following tongue projection.
Tongue projection occurs at extremely high performance, reaching the prey in as little as 0.07 seconds having been launched at accelerations exceeding 41 g. The power with which the tongue is launched, known to exceed 3000 W kg-1, exceeds that for which muscle is able to produce, indicating the presence of an elastic power amplifier to power tongue projection. The recoil of elastic elements in the tongue apparatus are thus responsible for large percentages of the overall tongue projection performance.
One consequence of the incorporation of an elastic recoil mechanism to the tongue projection mechanism is relative thermal insensitivity of tongue projection relative to tongue retraction, which is powered by muscle contraction alone, and is heavily thermally sensitive. While other ectothermic animals become sluggish as their body temperatures decline, due to a reduction in the contractile velocity of their muscles, chameleons are able to project their tongues at high performance even at low body temperatures.