Cameleon belongs to the distinct and specialized natural group of Old World lizards. Chameleons belong to the family Chamaeleonidae. As of June 2015, there are a total of 202 species of Old World lizards in the world. The chameleon is one of them. Chameleons live in warm habitats that include specific regions of Africa, Europe, and Asia.
Our wildlife guide to the chameleon features all the details of this animal. Let’s quickly get to the sections below for knowing more about these “wizards of nature”.
- Latin name (genera): Brookesiinae and Chamaeleoninae
- Family name: Chamaeleonidae
- Size: 23-51 centimeters
- Lifespan: 5-11 years
Skip to: Characteristics, Range & habitat, Diet, Behaviour, Fun facts, Video
Chameleon species are of different colors and many species can change their color. The color-changing feature is the most common characteristic that we are aware of. However, they are distinguished by their structure of feet. Their feet are termed as zygodactylous. Chameleons have superbly flexible tongues and horns in their brow as well as snout. The larger species of Chameleons have a prehensile tail. They can move each eye independently.
Chameleons species show sexual dimorphism. It means the male and female chameleons differ in physical characteristics like other animals. Apart from that, a chameleon has five clearly distinguished toes on each foot. The toes are grouped into a bundle of two. Such a structure of foot appears as tongs. Moreover, each toe has a sharp claw in it.
Chameleons have the most unique eyes among the reptiles. The upper and lower eyelids of a chameleon are joined and it only sees through a pinhole wide enough for the pupil to see through. However, chameleons don’t have an outer ear.
Range & habitat
The family of chameleons is divided into two subfamilies. These are:
All the chameleon species are divided into the mentioned groups according to the features they share. However, most of the chameleon species are found in the mainland of sub-Saharan Africa and on the island of Madagascar. There are a few species that are found in northern Africa, southern Europe mainly in Spain, Italy, and Greece, the Middle East, southern India, Sri Lanka, and some islands in the western Indian Ocean.
Chameleons live in tropical and mountain rain forests, savannas, deserts, and steppes. In the Chamaeleoninae subfamily, the chameleons are arboreal. They live in trees or bushes. In the Brookesiinae subfamily, the chameleons live in low vegetation or on the ground among leaf litter.
The Brookesia micra chameleon is significant as it’s amongst the smallest animals in the world.
Chameleons are insectivorous animals. That’s why they generally eat insects. However, some species show cannibalism. The common chameleon is one of them. They eat other lizards and also young birds.
Let’s have a look at the diet of specific chameleon species.
Veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)
The veiled chameleon, a species from Arabia, feeds mainly on insects. They also eat leaves when they can’t find water in the area they live in. They also a lot of crickets daily.
Jackson’s chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii)
Jackson’s chameleon, a species from Kenya and northern Tanzania, feeds on a wide range of items. Its diet includes small animals like ants, butterflies, caterpillars, snails, worms, lizards, geckos, and amphibians. They also show cannibalism and eat other chameleons. Sometimes, they feed on some plant materials too.
Common chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)
The common chameleon, a species from Europe, North Africa, and North-East Asia, primarily eats wasps and mantises. Their diet includes waxworms, earthworms, grasshoppers, flies, and plant materials like leaves, oats, and fruit.
Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)
The panther chameleon of Madagascar feeds on insects. They also prefer plant materials like other chameleons.
Behavior & lifestyle
Not all Chameleon species can change their skin pigmentation. However, some species can. Those who have this ability can change their color to pink, red, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, light blue, yellow, turquoise, and purple. They use skin coloration to camouflage. Sometimes they change color for social communication and in reactions to temperature and other environmental conditions.
Chameleons are ectothermic. It means their body temperature depends on the environmental temperature. They can’t regulate their body heat like other animals.
Chameleons are oviparous and lay eggs 3-6, weeks after mating. The number of eggs they lay vary in different species. However, as a signal of mating, they change their color while courting female chameleons.
Fun chameleon facts
Here is a list of “Top 5 Fun Chameleon Facts” that will amaze you, for sure. You can read the list below.
- The female Jackson’s chameleon can give birth to 30 offspring from only one gestation!
- The veiled chameleon feeds on 15-50 large crickets every day.
- The panther chameleon can regulate its vitamin D3 levels.
- Some chameleon species have fluorescent bones that glow under ultraviolet light.
- Chameleons can see in both visible and ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet light has a positive effect on a chameleon. When it is exposed to UV light it starts to show increased social activity and eats more than normal times.
Meet the chameleon
Here at SafarisAfricana, you can read such amazing facts about Safari Animals.
Did you enjoy learning more about the chameleon? Have you ever met this unique creature face-to-face? Tell us about your chameleon experience in the comment section below. Because those who care share!
- Glaw, F. (2015). “Taxonomic checklist of chameleons (Squamata: Chamaeleonidae)”. Vertebrate Zoology. 65 (2): 167–246.
- Edmonds, Patricia (September 2015). “True colors“. National Geographic: 98.
- Klaver, C.; Böhme, W. (1986). “Phylogeny and classification of the Chamaeleonidae (Sauria) with special reference to hemipenis morphology”. Bonner Zoologische Monographien. 22: 1–64.
- Tilbury, Colin (2014). “Overview of the Systematics of the Chamaeleonidae”. In Tolley, Krystal A.; Herrel, Anthony (eds.). The Biology of Chameleons. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 151–174. ISBN 9780520276055.
- Young, Emma (2008) Chameleons fine-tune camouflage to predator’s vision. New Scientist
- “Chamaeleon News, August 2004“. Chameleonnews.com. Archived from the original on 22 January 2008. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
- Prötzel, David; Heß, Martin; Scherz, Mark D.; Schwager, Martina; Padje, Anouk van’t; Glaw, Frank (2018-01-15). “Widespread bone-based fluorescence in chameleons”. Scientific Reports. 8 (1): 698. Bibcode:2018NatSR…8..698P. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-19070-7. ISSN 2045-2322. PMC 5768862. PMID 29335580.
- “Habitat loss and fragmentation reduce chameleon population in Tanzania“. Phys.org. Retrieved 1 November 2017.
- Glaw, Frank; Vences, Miguel (1994). A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar (2nd ed.). Köln: Verlags GbR. ISBN 978-3-929449-01-3.
- “Reptiles and Amphibians: Veiled Chameleon“. Smithsonian National Zoological Park. Archived from the original on 2011-12-17. Retrieved January 9, 2012.