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Journal of Experimental Biology partnership with Dryad

Storage and recovery of elastic potential energy powers ballistic prey capture in toads
A. Kristopher Lappin, Jenna A. Monroy, Jason Q. Pilarski, Eric D. Zepnewski, David J. Pierotti, Kiisa C. Nishikawa


Ballistic tongue projection in toads is a remarkably fast and powerful movement. The goals of this study were to: (1) quantify in vivo power output and activity of the depressor mandibulae muscles that are responsible for ballistic mouth opening, which powers tongue projection; (2) quantify the elastic properties of the depressor mandibulae muscles and their series connective tissues using in situ muscle stimulation and force-lever studies; and (3) develop and test an elastic recoil model, based on the observed elastic properties of the depressor mandibulae muscles and series connective tissues, that accounts for displacement, velocity, acceleration and power output during ballistic mouth opening in toads. The results demonstrate that the depressor mandibulae muscles of toads are active for up to 250 ms prior to mouth opening. During this time, strains of up to 21.4% muscle resting length (ML) develop in the muscles and series connective tissues. At maximum isometric force, series connective tissues develop strains up to 14% ML, and the muscle itself develops strains up to 17.5% ML. When the mouth opens rapidly, the peak instantaneous power output of the depressor mandibulae muscles and series connective tissues can reach 9600 W kg–1. The results suggest that: (1) elastic recoil of muscle itself can contribute significantly to the power of ballistic movements; (2) strain in series elastic elements of the depressor mandibulae muscle is too large to be borne entirely by the cross bridges and the actin–myosin filament lattice; and (3) central nervous control of ballistic tongue projection in toads likely requires the specification of relatively few parameters.

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