Scientific name: Chamaeleonidae
Conservation Status: Least Concern
All Chameleons have feet that are like clamps. On their front feet, two toes are fused on the outside and three on the inside, on the back feet three are fused on the outside and two on the inside. This is called a “zygodactyl” pattern which allows the chameleon to grip onto branches and stems really easily. They also have a prehensile (gripping) tail which is very strong which also helps them to grip onto branches and saves them from falling if they lose their grip.
The Chameleons eyes are really fascinating. They are cone shaped with only small openings for pupils. Each of their eyes can rotate independently which means they can see 360 degrees around them without really moving their head. They are also very good at judging distances because their eyes are like telescopic lenses. They have extremely good vision and their eyes operate almost like binoculars when looking for food.
The Chameleon has a tongue that they can stick out about twice the length of their body and they use it like a catapult to get the bug they want. When they reach the bug the tongue forms like a suction cup to pull it in, and also they wrap the tip of the tongue around the bug to get it back to their mouth. The Chameleons tongue can accelerate five times faster than a fighter jet.
Some species of Chameleons are able to change colour from the green or brown that they are normally although this is usually done for social purposes not really for camouflage. They are able to do this because they have four different layers of skin, the outer layer the epidermis, the chromatophore layer that has yellow and red pigment, the melanophore layer that has melanin and can make brown and black colours and reflect blue, and the nether layer that reflects white. Hormone changes and nerve impulses causes the colour cells in the layers to expand or shrink and when the layers blend together it creates the different colours or patterns.
The lifespan of Chameleons in the wild is not really known however it is likely to only be about 2-3 years, however in zoos they can live for over 10 years. (The lifespan varies between the different species).
The Chameleon is an omnivore which means that they eat both plants and animals. Most Chameleons eat things like berries, leaves, fruits, insects, worms and snails. Some of the larger Chameleon species will hunt small reptiles and birds.
Chameleons are mostly found on the mainland of Africa and the island of Madagascar, with a few species found in North Africa, Southern India, Sri Lanka, the Middle East and Southern Europe. They inhabit all types of rainforests, savanna, semidesert and steppe. Most species are arboreal and are usually found in trees and bushes, however there are some species that live in low vegetation on the ground.
Most Chameleons are oviporous (animals that lay eggs) but some are ovoviviparous (animals that the embryos develop inside eggs that are kept in the mothers body until they are ready to hatch. The female Chameleon lays eggs about 3-6 weeks after mating and she will dig a hole between 10-30cm (4-12in) deep depending on the species in which to lay the eggs. Once she has laid the eggs she will bury them and leave the eggs. The amount of eggs that the Chameleon has depends on the species, small species may only have 2 eggs while the larger species may have between 80-100. The eggs generally hatch after 4-12 months depending on the species.
The ovoviviparous species such as the Jackson’s Chameleon have a gestation period of 5-6 months. When they are born they are in a clear membrane and once they reach the ground or a branch they will wake up and crawl out the membrane. They can have between about 8-31 live young at a time.
The name “chameleon” means “earth lion” and comes from the greek words chamai (on the ground) and leon (lion)
Some species of chameleon change colour depending on their mood, the temperature or the amount of light that they are in.
One Chameleon species, the Jackson’s Chameleon is viviparous meaning it produces live young instead of eggs from within its body.