Chameleon Lizard

Chameleon Lizard

Scientific Classification

Kingdom:   Animalia
Phylum:     Chordata
Class:      Reptilia
Order:        Squamata
Suborder:        Iguania
Infraorder:     Acrodonta
Family:     Chamaeleonidae

Chameleons belong to the Chamaeleonidae family. They are highly specialized and quite distinctive. They belong to the lizard clade (belonging to one tree of life from an ancestral group).  There are more or less, 160 chameleon species, They come in a wide assortment of colors.   Many species of these lizards have the ability to alter their color.  You can distinguish the Chameleons from other lizard species by their feet that are  Zygodactylous (like a bird’s foot with the second and third toes forward and the first and fourth toes curving backward.  They have stereoscopic,  independently mobile eyes. They possess very long, highly adapted tongues which they can extrude quite swiftly.   They sway when they walk.  They sport distinctive crests on their heads, You can spot prehensile tails on some species.  They are very agile climbers and very good at visual hunting.   You can find them in warm environments that vary from tropical rain forests to desert-like areas, in Africa, Madagascar, southern Europe, and southeast Asia, extending to Sri Lanka.  Now you can find them in Hawaii, Florida, and California. 

Chameleon Lizard


“Chameleon” derives from the Latin word “chamaelo”


Chamaeleonidae family initially had two sub-families: Brookesiinae and Chamaeleoninae. 

The validity of this sub-division evoked a great debate,  Phylogenetic studies point out that pygmy chameleons which are part of the subfamily Brookesiinae are not monophyletic (they share derived features and are part of an ancestral tree). They are not the progeny of one ancestor.  The authorities have given up this sub-family segregation and no longer identify any subfamilies within the family Chamaeleonidae.

Chameleon Lizard

Change of color

The common chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) changed into black color when threatened

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The Namaqua chameleon in a threatening display turned black and opened its mouth when the authorities tried to move it off a busy road near the Namib-Naukluft National Park.

Many chameleon species can alter their skin coloration. Different species can change their coloration and patterns,  making use of astute combinations of red,  pink, orange,  blue, purple, black,  green, brown, turquoise,  light blue, and  yellow.

Change  of coloration  in chameleons serves many  functions. The change of color helps in social signaling and also to exhibit reactions to temperature and other conditions. It also helps  in camouflage. The comparative importance of these functions changes according to the species as well as the environment.. Color change signals a chameleon’s body condition and intentions to fellow     chameleons.  Chameleons change to darker colors when angered, or attempting to frighten or threaten  others.  Some males exhibit  many colored patterns when wooing  females.

A few  species, like Smith’s dwarf chameleon, alter  their color for camouflage in tune with the vision of the particular  predators  (bird or snake) which threaten them.

The Namaqua chameleon, which lives in the desert also uses color change  to aid  thermoregulation, turning black in the cool mornings  to absorb heat more effectively. It takes on a lighter gray color to reflect light during the   day’s heat.  It  even  shows both colors at the same time, neatly segregated  on either side of the spine.


Panther Chameleon
Panther Chameleon

Chameleons  are   a very typical and well-known  lizard species, because of the large expressive  eyes and curled tail. They say  there are more than 160 distinct species of chameleons that vary in size  from just an inch to more than two  feet.   You can find the very small  pygmy  chameleon in the  Madagascar jungles.   Among the The   smallest chameleon species, some males  measure  less than 3 cm in  length.

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It is quite interesting to note that the  largest  chameleon species, the  Malagasy giant   is also  native to the  Madagascar  jungles. They grow to nearly 70 cm long. . Parson’s chameleon, (We can also find them in Madagascar) can reach  a length of about  65 cm.

The chameleon, even though it is a reptile, has  extraordinary  eyesight.  The chameleon’s eye with its peculiar  structure, enables  the animal to have perfect  360 degree vision, surrounding  its body.  The  special adaptation, enables  the chameleon to observe prey and  look out for predators more efficiently.


You can find chameleons  in jungle and deserts.  They are omnipresent, whether  it is  Africa, parts of Southern Europe or Asia.  People have introduced  chameleons to parts of North America.


The Chameleon is  omnivorous.   They  will eat anything.  Some  species of chameleon seem  more carnivorous.  Other  species of chameleons opt  for vegetarianism.   The chameleon is not particular about what it eats.  The diet usually  includes berries, fruits,  leaves, worms, snails and  insects.   The  larger chameleons  will even  hunt and devour small reptiles.

Predators That Target Chameleons

Because of the small size of the chameleon, they become easy targets  for ravenous  predators. Snakes and birds  that are the other tree dwelling animals, are the most common predators of the chameleon, as well as some mammals.


Panther Chameleon
Panther Chameleon

Female chameleons at  first  digs  holes  in the forest floor (anything from 10 to 30 cm deep)  to bury their  eggs to keep them secure and warm. The hole  depth  mostly  depends on the species of the chameleon.

The female  deposits a clutch of about  20 eggs. The  number of the eggs can,  in fact,  vary from just one to even  nearly 100. The  eggs take around 4 to 12 months to   hatch, depending on the species  of the chameleon

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Today a number of chameleon species face the threat of extinction.   We consider many  other chameleon species as  endangered.  Pollution and deforestation cause habitat changes  that contribute to declining chameleon’s numbers.

Chameleon as a Pet

Chameleons are wonderful  animals.  The experts on  chameleon lizard care say that sometimes you may not find them as the best choice as pets. They are  certainly not  for the beginner and their needs are quite clear.  They stress  easily. They do not like people handling them.  If you want to  handle your reptile, pass the chameleon  by.

People do keep several of the species as pets.  The most common among lizard  is the panther chameleon and the  veiled Jacksons.  Veiled chameleons are comparatively large. They grow up to 2 feet long,  and so require  a suitable  large enclosure.   They are fairly robust.   Jackson’s chameleons are much smaller and need only less space. The males look like little tops with 3  horns on the head, but they are not very robust.   Panther chameleons happen to be  quite big.   Males are much bigger than the  females and display some  remarkable colors.

Fun Facts about Chameleons

Chameleons’ Tongue and Eyes

Chameleons’ Tongue:

The tongues of the chameleons account to  about 1 ½ their body length. This is  like a 6-foot tall person having a  9-foot tongue!

The sticky tip  their long tongues enables them to catch their prey (insects).  They can  shoot their tongues out and catch the insect in a fraction of a second.

Chameleons’ Eyes

Chameleons can rotate each eye independently in different directions.

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