chameleon

chameleon facts

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Color change to pink, red, green, yellow, turquoise and more!

Chameleons, scientific name Chamaeleonidae, are a type of lizard known for their ability to change color and brightness. There are more than 160 species of chameleons found in Madagascar, Spain, Africa, Asia and Portugal. They have large eyes and curly tails, and some species can change skin color to blend in with their surroundings as a defense mechanism against predators. These lizards can change their skin colors to pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, light blue, yellow and turquoise.

Chameleon infographic

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interesting fact

  1. The word chameleon comes from the Greek chamai, which means on earth, and leon, which means lion. So, the word means earth lion.
  2. Chameleons can see up to 32 feet in front of them. This makes spotting crickets, snails, and other types of prey much easier. They also have a full 360 degree view around their body! This particular adaptation allows them to hunt prey and spot predators more efficiently.
  3. While chameleons have good eyesight, they don't have very good hearing. Like snakes, they can hear specific frequencies but rely on their eyesight to catch insects.

scientific name

chameleon
The word chameleon means earth lion!

© Agus_Gatam/Shutterstock.com

The chameleon's scientific name is Chamaeleo, derived from the Greek words "chamai", which means on the ground, and "leōn", which means lion. This genus of lizards includes more than 160 species native to Africa, Madagascar, southern Europe and Asia. They are known for their ability to change color with their environment, allowing them to blend beautifully with trees or rocks. Additionally, they can move each eye independently for a larger field of view.

appearance

How big is a chameleon
A chameleon's tongue can be up to 24 inches long!

©Jason Mintzer/Shutterstock.com

Chameleons are incredible animals with the unique ability to change color and blend in with their environment. They come in many shapes, sizes and colors, depending on the species. In general, most chameleons have flattened bodies and long tails, and five fingers on each foot, ideal for grasping branches or other surfaces. Their eyes can move independently of each other, which helps them scan their surroundings more efficiently. Chameleons also have a protruding tongue that they use to catch prey such as insects or small lizards. On average, they range in length from 2 inches to 24 inches! Depending on the species, they often have bright shades of green and yellow, with various spotting patterns all over their bodies, making them very striking reptiles!



Habitat

Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) at Wroclaw Zoo
Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) in Wroclaw Zoo

© Kinemator/Creative Commons

Chameleons are animals found throughout jungles and deserts, parts of Africa, Asia, and southern Europe, and chameleons have also been introduced to parts of North America. Most of these lizards live in trees or bushes. Only a few species of chameleons live on the ground under piles of leaves.

predator

chameleon
Chameleons use their beautiful colors as a defense mechanism.

©OMP.stock/Shutterstock.com

There are many animals that eat these lizards. In fact, the smaller the chameleon, the more likely it was to be eaten by a larger animal. Some predators include snakes, birds, and sometimes monkeys. Although they can blend into the environment, they are near the bottom of the food chain. This means that there are many animals above them on the food chain that can eat them.

defense against predators

A chameleon's ability to change color according to its environment is its way of protecting itself when there are predators nearby. If the lizard is on a branch, its skin will turn a color very close to the color of the branch. Many predators may pass by without ever seeing a chameleon sitting quietly on a branch.

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evolution

Oustalets Chameleon Ambalavao, Madagascar
Oustalets Chameleon, Ambarabo, Madagascar

© Bernard Gagnon/Creative Commons

Chameleons are a very unique species of lizard known for their ability to change color to adapt to their environment. It has been around for millions of years and is believed to be a descendant of the iguana family. Chameleons are found throughout Africa, Madagascar, southern Europe and parts of Asia, as well as some islands in the Indian Ocean.

The chameleon's evolution has also allowed it to develop several interesting traits that make it ideal for its habitat. They have special eyes with a 360-degree field of view to see predators from any direction, a long tongue to catch prey quickly, a grippy tail to help them climb trees more easily, and claws to hold firmly on branches. Additionally, their skin pigmentation allows them to blend into their surroundings almost instantly when threatened by predators or other animals.

Overall, the incredible evolution behind the chameleon's remarkable adaptability is truly amazing!

Behavior

What Veiled Chameleons Eat - What Veiled Chameleons Eat
When threatened, chameleons turn sideways to appear larger.

© Lauren Suryanata/Shutterstock.com

Chameleons are best known for their ability to change color, but they also possess many other interesting behaviors. Chameleons are known to be solitary animals, spending most of their time alone or in pairs. They can often be seen basking on twigs or foliage, and when disturbed they usually hide in the foliage. Their long tongues help them catch prey such as insects and small reptiles; they have excellent eyesight, which helps them spot potential food sources from a distance. When threatened by a predator, a chameleon may puff itself up to make itself appear larger than normal and hiss as a warning signal. In addition to this defensive behavior, some chameleon species may even attack each other with their tails!

Chameleons are animals that communicate with each other through body language. For example, chameleons are likely to turn sideways when trying to defend their territory from intruders. This makes the lizard appear larger and more threatening. A chameleon that feels threatened may open its mouth in an attempt to scare another chameleon away.

reproduction

baby chameleon hatching
Some chameleons lay eggs, while others give birth to live babies.

©Nick Henn/Shutterstock.com

Most species of these lizards lay eggs, while a few species have live babies. The female digs a burrow in the ground and lays her eggs in the burrow to keep warm. Typically, they lay about 20 eggs, but depending on the species, there may be more or fewer. It can take anywhere from four months to a year for the eggs to hatch. Jackson's chameleon is an example of a species that has live babies. The lizard can give birth to 8 to 30 live babies after about six months of pregnancy.

Like most other reptiles, chameleons reproduce sexually. During courtship and mating rituals, male chameleons display their bright colors to attract mates. Male chameleons also use head shaking as a way of flirting and competing with rivals for female attention. If a male successfully displays his color through body language rather than physical contact and wins the fight, the female may choose him for mating.

The gestation period for chameleon eggs varies from one month to several months, depending on the species and environmental factors such as temperature or humidity levels. After eggs hatch in the ground or in nests in trees or bushes, baby chameleons are born without parental care; they must fend for themselves after birth.

A chameleon's lifespan depends on its species, but is generally five to fifteen years if kept in captivity under optimal conditions such as a proper diet and a constantly satisfying environment. Wild chameleons tend to have short lifespans due to lack of food sources, predators, disease exposure, etc. These factors can greatly reduce their life expectancy if not handled properly.

diet

what chameleons eat
Chameleons eat a variety of foods, such as fruit, insects, and plants.

© AZ-Animals.com

Chameleons feed on insects. Although chameleons are omnivores and will eat plants such as dandelions and other plants, most of their prey is insects such as grasshoppers, crickets and dragonflies.

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For a complete list of chameleon diets, check out our 'What do chameleons eat? 16 Foods in their Diet' page and read!

conservation status

What Veiled Chameleons Eat - What Veiled Chameleons Eat
Some chameleon species are endangered due to habitat loss.

© Lauren Suryanata/Shutterstock.com

Chameleons are fascinating creatures that come in all shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, their numbers have been steadily declining due to a combination of factors including habitat destruction and hunting for the pet trade. As a result, several species of chameleons are listed as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. The Parsonian chameleon, for example, is classified as endangered because of its limited range and continued population decline due to ongoing habitat loss, poaching of pets, and over-collection by scientists. Another species at risk is the panther chameleon, whose numbers have declined significantly in Madagascar due to deforestation activities such as burning forest land for agriculture. Conservation efforts must focus on protecting suitable habitats so these amazing animals can continue to thrive around the world.

120 Chameleons

120 types of chameleons
African Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo africanus Laurenti
Amber Chameleon – Species: Calumma amber
Antsingy Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia perarmata
Arabian Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo arabicus Matschie
Bearded Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rieppeleon brevicaudatus
Beraducci Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon beraduccii
Strange Nose Chameleon – Species: Calumma hafahafa
Black-headed Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion melanocephalum
Blunt-nosed Chameleon – Species: Calumma tsycorne
Bocage's Chameleon – Subspecies: Chamaeleo dilepis quilensis
Boulenger Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon boulengeri
Brown Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia superciliaris
Cameroon Flagfin Chameleon – Species: Trioceros montium
Cameroon Tree-tailed Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon spectrum
Horned Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion pumilum
Carpenter's Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia carpenteri
Carpet Chameleon – Species: Furcifer lateralis
Carpet Chameleon – Species: Furcifer major
Chameleon Dragon – Species: Chelosania brunnea
Chameleon Forest Dragon – Species: Gonocephalus chamaeleontinus
Chapman's Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon chapmanorum
Round-scaled Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia gyrolepis
Coarse Chameleon – Species: Trioceros rudis
Cone-headed Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo calyptratus
Crested Chameleon – Species: Trioceros cristatus
Mystic Chameleon – Species: Calumma crypticum
Dhlinza Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion caeruleogula
Domergue's Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia thieli
Two-scaled Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo anchietae
Drakensberg Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion dracomontanum
Eiongate Leaf Chameleon – Species: Palleon nasus
Eisentraut's Chameleon – Subspecies: Trioceros quadricornis eisentrauti
Eshowe Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion caeruleogula
Fito Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia lambertoni
Lapel Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo dilepis
Flapneck Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo dilepis
Four-horned Chameleon – Species: Trioceros quadricornis
Elegant Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo gracilis
Gray Chameleon – Species: Trioceros chapini
Green Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon viridis
High Helmed Chameleon – Species: Trioceros hoehnelii
Iaraka River Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia vadoni
Ilolo Chameleon – Species: Trioceros goetzei
Indian Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo zeylanicus
Ituri Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia adolfifriderici
Jackson's Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo jacksonii
Jackson's Chameleon – Species: Trioceros jacksonii
Johnston Chameleon – Species: Trioceros johnstoni
Karoo Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion karrooicum
Kentani Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion kentanicum
Kenyan Tree-tailed Chameleon – Species: Rieppeleon kerstenii
Knysna Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion damaranum
Labord's Chameleon – Species: Furcifer labordi
Little Chameleon – Species: Furcifer minor
Magombera Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia magomberae
Malawi Tree-tailed Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon platyceps
Marojejy Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia griveaudi
Marojejy Peak Chameleon – Species: Calumma jejy
Marshall Stump Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon marshalli
Matschie's Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia tenuis
Meller's Chameleon – Species: Trioceros melleri
Small Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia minima
Mountain Side Striped Chameleon – Species: Trioceros ellioti
Mount Chiperone Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon nebulauctor
Amber Mountain Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia tuberculata
Rice Mountain Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon bruessoworum
Kural Mountain Chameleon – Species: Trioceros narraioca
Lefo Mountain Chameleon – Species: Trioceros wiedersheimi
Mabu Mountain Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon maspictus
Mulanje Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon platyceps
Namuli Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon tilburyi
Mount-Nyiro Bearded Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia asheorum
Moye Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon moyeri
Mount Kenya Horned Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia excubitor
Mount Kenya Striped Chameleon – Species: Trioceros schubotzi
Mt Nyiru Chameleon – Species: Trioceros ntunte
Namaqua Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo namaquensis
Natal Midland Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion thamnobates
Ngome Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion ngomeense
Ngosi Volcanic Chameleon – Species: Trioceros fuelereborni
Nguru Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon acuminatus
Northern Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia ebenaui
Owen Chameleon – Species: Trioceros oweni
Parson's Chameleon – Species: Calumma parsonii
Peltier Chameleon – Species: Calumma peltierorum
Permet Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia therezieni
Perret's Chameleon – Species: Trioceros perreti
Pfeffer's Chameleon – Species: Trioceros pfefferi
Plated Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia stumpffi
Qudeni Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion nemorale
Red-nosed Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia oxyrhina
Robertsonian Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion gutturale
Rose-nosed Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon spinosus
Ruppell's Desert Chameleon – Species: Trioceros affinis
Ruwenzori Side-striped Chameleon – Species: Trioceros rudis
Senegalese Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo senegalensis
Setaro's Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion setaroi
Smithy Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion taeniabronchum
Smooth Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo laevigatus
Socotra Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo monachus
South African Tree-tailed Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon nchisiensis
Southern Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion ventrale
Spiny Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia decaryi
Two-sided spiny chameleon – Species: Trioceros laterispinis
Odd-horned Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia xenorhina
Tanzania Mountain Chameleon – Species: Trioceros tempeli
Tilbury Chameleon – Species: Trioceros marsabitensis
Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia dentata
Transkei Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion caffer
Transvaal Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion transvaalense
Two-lined Chameleon – Species: Trioceros bitaeniatus
Ukinga Horned Chameleon – Species: Trioceros incornutus
Uluguru Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon uluguruensis
Usambara Soft-horned Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia tenuis
Usambara Stumptail Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon temporalis
Uthmöller's Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia uthmoelleri
Veiled Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo calyptratus
Wavy Chameleon – Species: Trioceros deremensis
Wemer's Chameleon – Species: Trioceros werneri
Yemeni Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo calyptratus
Zululand Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion nemorale

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about the author

Heather Hall


I'm a freelance writer with 22 years of experience. I live in the Pacific Northwest surrounded by nature. When I do my daily runs, I often see herds of elk, deer, and bald eagles. I have two dogs that take me on hikes in the mountains where we see coyotes, black bears, and wild turkeys.

Chameleon FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the Difference Between Iguanas and Chameleons?

There are several key differences between chameleons and iguanas. First, they come from different parts of the world. Iguanas are from the Americas, while chameleons are from Africa and Asia. Second, they have key anatomical differences, such as tails and eyes. Chameleons have protruding eyes that allow them to see in different directions, while iguanas have eyes more typical of reptiles.

What does a chameleon look like?

Chameleons have five toes on each of their four feet. These toes help them climb trees so they can sit on the highest branches. The chameleon's five toes work a bit like human thumbs and fingers. Chameleons also have a tail that wraps around branches to help them climb without falling off. This reptile has the ability to change the color of its scaly skin. Some chameleons can take on bright reds and yellows, while others can turn green, black, brown, or gray. A chameleon changes color according to its mood. It turns one color when it's angry and another when it's scared. A chameleon's color range depends largely on its species. This reptile has a long tongue with a sticky surface that it uses to catch food. Also, its eyes can move in different directions. This allows the chameleon to see everything around it.

What do chameleons eat?

Chameleons are generally omnivorous, although some chameleon species are known to be more carnivorous, while others are more vegetarian. Chameleons will usually eat anything, including berries, leaves, fruit, insects, worms, snails, and some larger chameleons will also prey on small reptiles. Insect-eating chameleons use their long, sticky tongues to catch locusts, grasshoppers, snails and crickets they see. Because many chameleons move very slowly, their long tongues can provide them with food without chasing. Once the insect is in the chameleon's mouth, it is crushed by the reptile's powerful jaws. Larger chameleons have been known to eat small birds.

Do chameleons drink a lot of water?

Chameleons don't drink a lot of water, but they do need to drink frequently. Chameleons living in the forest drink water droplets from leaves after a heavy rain. Most chameleons look for drips of water rather than pools of water on the forest floor.

How big is a chameleon?

The size of a chameleon depends on its species. The Madagascar giant chameleon is about 27 inches long, while the leaf chameleon is only half an inch long. Both types of chameleons live in Madagascar. While some chameleon species weigh less than a pound, others can weigh as much as two to four pounds. Parson's chameleons are about the size of a house cat!

How long can a chameleon live?

In the wild, chameleons can live four to eight years. Chameleons cared for in zoos can live up to ten years.

Do chameleons make sounds?

Chameleons do make sounds. Many species hiss when they are angry or feel threatened by something in their environment.

Do chameleons live in groups?

Chameleons don't live in groups. They prefer to sit alone in trees and bushes. Chameleons do come together to mate, but otherwise they are known as solitary animals.

Are chameleons good pets?

Although there are many varieties of chameleons available in pet stores, they aren't the best pets. These reptiles need a certain environment to enjoy a healthy life. It is difficult to create such an environment in an aquarium. Plus, they require a special diet to stay healthy.

Do chameleons shed their skin?

Chameleons shed their skin like snakes and other reptiles. But while snakes shed their skin in long patches, chameleons shed their skin in small pieces. A chameleon may shed its skin every month or every few months, depending on its species. In addition to shedding their skin naturally, chameleons can also shed when they're stressed or sick.

To which kingdom do chameleons belong?

Chameleons belong to the animal kingdom.

What door do chameleons belong to?

Chameleons belong to the phylum Chordate.

Which category do chameleons belong to?

Chameleons belong to the class of reptiles.

What family do chameleons belong to?

Chameleons belong to the family Chameleonidae.

What order do chameleons belong to?

Chameleons belong to the order Squamate.

What type of mulch do chameleons have?

Chameleons are covered with scales.

What type of habitat do chameleons live in?

Chameleons live in tropical forests and deserts.

What are the distinctive features of a chameleon?

Chameleons have extraordinary vision and the ability to change skin color.

Who are the natural enemies of chameleons?

Natural enemies of chameleons include snakes, birds, and mammals.

What is the average clutch size for a Chameleon?

Chameleons usually lay 20 eggs.

What are some interesting facts about chameleons?

There are over 160 different chameleons!

What is the scientific name of the chameleon?

The scientific name of chameleons is Chamaeleonidae.

How fast is a chameleon?

Chameleons can travel at speeds of up to 21 miles per hour.

What's the Difference Between a Bearded Dragon and a Chameleon?

The biggest differences between bearded dragons and chameleons are their size, tail and eyes. Bearded dragons are smaller than chameleons. Although they were similar in body length, bearded dragons gained most of their length from their somewhat thin tails. Chameleons are also heavier than bearded dragons, but they can also be very small.

What is the Difference Between a Chameleon and a Lizard?

The biggest differences between chameleons and lizards are their tails, eyes and tongues. Known for their distinctive grippable tails, chameleons are one of the few reptiles with tails.

How to say chameleon in…

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source
  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animals, The Definitive Visual Guide to the World's Wildlife
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) Encyclopedia of World Animals
  3. David Burney, Kingfisher (2011) The Animal Encyclopedia of Kingfishers
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) Atlas of Threatened Species
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Animal Encyclopedia
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Animal Encyclopedia