Chameleon: Everything You Need to Know

Chameleons are one of the most famous types of lizards that you would ever come across. With this in mind, it is important to understand that they are even specialized clade of what are considered to be Old World lizards. There is an overall of 202 species in this category. Chameleons are usually small lizards which come in a range of different colors and they are mainly known for the fact that they can change them upon different occasions.

Of course, there are also a few other quite characteristic and distinctive factors which need to be accounted for when it comes to chameleons and it’s important that they are taken seriously. With this in mind, we will be looking at some of their main characteristics alongside the most common types of chameleons that you can come across. With this in mind, let’s go right ahead and take a quick look at the things that you might want to take into account.

Physical Characteristics

Obviously, this is going to be a lengthy description as there is a lot to be said about chameleons. They are, in fact, incredibly fascinating, so let’s take a closer look at the things which make them interesting.

1. Size

The size of the chameleon ranges based on the different species. They vary greatly and that’s why it is rather impossible to determine their actual size. The maximum total length could vary between 15 mm and 68.5 cm. A lot of them also have certain facial ornamentation like nasal protrusions or projections which would resemble horns. In any case, it is obvious that the size of the chameleon is one of the things that you would have to look for based on the type that you want to take a look at.

2. Change of ColorA chameleon on branch

Color changes are what’s interesting when it comes to the chameleon. Now, contrary to the popular belief, not all chameleons are capable of changing their skin color. Different species are capable of varying their outside skin pigmentation through different combinations of various colors such as brown, blue, light blue, black, green, yellow, purple and others of the kind. The science behind those convenient color changes hides within their superficial layer of skin. It contains certain pigments and right under this particular layer there are skin cells with guanine crystals. Basically, by changing the space between those crystals, the chameleon will also change the colors as they reflect the wavelength of the light.

Of course, the most common reason for which they would change their color is for different social activities. This shatters yet another myth that chameleons would only go through a color change when there is a danger coming. Mostly, they would do so in social signaling as well as to react to the changes of temperatures and other completely natural reactions. Now, it’s important to understand that the change of color usually signals some sort of a physiological condition – this is a critical thing to consider when it comes to it.

3. Diet and Feeding

Now, usually, chameleons would feed on insects. However, larger species such as the common chameleon would also occasionally take other lizards and they would also attack young birds. There are quite a lot of different types of chameleons as we mentioned and as such, their diets are also rather different. The veiled chameleon, for instance, which inhabits Arabia, is an insectivore and yet it consumes leaves as well as other sources of water when they are available. This is also known as the leaf chameleon. It could also go ahead and adjust its diet to consume crickets. It could easily consume up to 50 larger crickets every single day.

The Jackson’s chameleon, which is another rather popular type, also consumes different insects but also certain animals. Common examples include butterflies, caterpillars, worms, other lizards, geckos, amphibians and even other smaller chameleons. It’s a cruel world indeed!

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4. Lifecycle

Once again, the lifecycle of different chameleons is rather different. The veiled chameleon is going to live up to about 5 years. The Jackson’s chameleon can reach up to 10 years of age. The panther chameleon can live for about 5 years and so on and so forth. It’s important to understand that their usual life would also go in a different manner. This is something that has to be taken into account when it comes to it.

5. Habitat

Now, the habitat of the chameleon is hardly determined. They usually live in the sub-Saharan Africa. They are also found on the island of Madagascar. However, there are quite a lot of different species which are also found in Northern Africa, Middle East, Sri Lanka, Southern Europe, India and Hawaii, California and Florida. It’s obvious that they prefer warmer climates and that’s mainly due to their cold-blooded lizard nature. Let’s not forget, after all, that they are, in fact, lizards. This is something which needs to be taken into proper consideration.

6. Behavior

Chameleons are particularly interesting creatures. They have somewhat solitary way of life even though their mating life is also pretty intense. They are territorial and are likely to attack a lot of things which would threaten their personal space, especially during mating season. Their main weapon, especially for feeding, is their strong and long tongue which lashes out like a whip to capture the victim, which is usually a surprised butterfly, fly or any other type of insect. They have a very distinctive and interesting chameleon tongue apparatus.Closeup head part of chameleon

7. Ultraviolet Vision

One of the most interesting things about chameleons is that they can see in both visible as well as in ultraviolet light. Those which are exposed to ultraviolet, however, show significantly increased social behavior as well as improved activity levels. They are also a lot more inclined to feed and bask. They are also a lot more likely to go ahead and reproduce and it’s obvious that the light has an effect on them. In fact, it affects their pineal gland in a beneficial manner.

8. The Tongue Apparatus

This is something that you should most certainly take into account as it is undoubtedly amongst the most characteristic things about the chameleon. If you’ve watched a chameleon feed, you are already aware of what we are talking about.

Now, the first thing that you need to consider is that chameleons have a very well developed chameleon tongue apparatus. It is ballistic, to say the least. They would rocket their tongues forward towards their victim in an instant and wrap it around it and pull it back just as quickly. The victim is usually left in shock, consumed only a few seconds later. This is the main way they hunt and the main way they get their food. It is definitely a show to watch the glamorous chameleon in action.

Now, as we mentioned, there are also quite a lot of different types of chameleons. With this in mind, we are going to take a closer look at some of the most common ones in order to ensure that you are well familiarized at least with them. Sure, it’s impossible to encompass them all, but let’s go ahead and have a good look at the things that you might want to consider about most of them.

11 Different Chameleon Species

1. Carpet ChameleonCarpet Chameleon on white background

The Carpet chameleon is one of the most popular types of chameleons and they are mainly encountered in the great island of Madagascar. They average a length of about 5 to 8 inches and it’s considered to be a very good size if you want to keep it as a pet. The colors are usually going to be green as well as yellow and they also have a distinctive shade of blue which is right around their eyes and on their feet.

2. Fischer’s Chameleon

This is yet another very popular species and it is rather unique. It has two horns instead of three unlike the Jackson’s chameleon. It is rather normal for it to be mixed with the very similar two-horned chameleon. There are quite a lot of different species of chameleons that you could actually confuse it with, actually. However, it is one of the most preferred ones and it is quite affordable to get.

3. Flapneck Chameleon

This is one which originates and can be found in almost all of the southern parts of Africa. It has earned its common name because of the significantly sized flaps which are usually going to extend from both of the sides of his upper neck when he tries to go ahead and scare off predators. The body of the chameleon is green when it is at rest but it could also be brown or yellow with a characteristic stripe which extends throughout its entire body.

4. Graceful Chameleon

This is one which is usually known for thriving throughout the majority of the sub-Saharan Africa and it is found ranging from Senegal to Ethiopia. Usually, this type is going to appear green, brown or yellow. It has light strips on the sides. Typically, its length is going to be about 12 inches but it could sometimes reach as much as 15 inches in length.

5. Jackson’s ChameleonA male Jackson's Three Horned Chameleon

This is one, alongside the veiled chameleon, which is usually sold in quite a lot of different pet stores. They would usually be portrayed in different shades of green such as light to dark green. However, as they become aggressive, they are going to switch colors and become black or even blue. It has two horns on his head and it is a great choice if you are a beginner in taking care of chameleons.

6. Meller’s Chameleon

Now, just as the Parson’s chameleon, this is another rather large type of chameleons. It is one of the largest ones which are not native to the beautiful and larger island of Madagascar. They are capable of reaching up to 24 inches. Another particularly common name of this chameleon is Giant One-Horned Chameleon. It’s not that it actually has a horn but it’s because they have a small extension of their snout. They are also a bit more expensive.

7. Panther Chameleon

This is another chameleon which is particularly interesting. If you want to get a species which is incredibly colorful, this is amongst your best options. It resembles the Carpet chameleon in the fact that it is also native to the island of Madagascar. It comes in a range of different colors, duh, as it can be green, yellow, orange, blue and red. For those of you who are actually capable of affording it (they could be quite expensive), this is one of the best choices. It has a lifespan of up to 7 years.

8. Parson’s ChameleonMale Parson's Chameleon with characteristic bulbous nose

This is by far the largest species of chameleons in the world. It could reach up to 27 inches of length. They are usually not sold by a lot of pet stores or by many local chameleon breeders as they could be particularly hard to come by. This is also due to the fact that they are incredibly expensive and one specimen of these can cost you as much as $2,000 to get. Of course, when you consider the fact that you are getting one of the most beautiful chameleons, this is definitely something that you might want to account for.

9. Pygmy Chameleon

If you are looking for a cheap and small pet to own, the pygmy chameleon might be your best bet. It can get to as much as 3 inches in length and is not going to cost you a substantial amount of money. You can also keep more than one of those in one enclosure without any issues – 1 male and 2 females is a good idea, for example.

10. Senegal Chameleon

This is yet another type of particularly popular pet chameleons that a lot of people like to own. They are cheap to buy and are very common throughout the entire world. They are native to West Africa and are particularly convenient in terms of size if you want to take care of it in captivity. They can reach up to 8 inches in length, which isn’t something that considerable.

11. Veiled ChameleonVeiled chameleon close-up photo

This is undoubtedly the most bought pet chameleon of all the species today. The name comes from the fact that they have a large veil across their neck. They are incredibly colorful and this is the main reason for which they are so appealing to a lot of people. When they are upset, the entire body is going to get covered in dark black spots, which is showing their response.

In any case, these are some of the most common chameleon species which a lot of people like to take care of. While most all of them are abundant in nature, they are also incredibly popular as domestic pets. This is due to the fact that they are rather exotic and yet they are incredibly easy to take care of. This is the main reason for which quite a lot of homeowners prefer to spice it up and break it up a notch by adding one of those interesting reptiles in their homes.

Chameleons as Pets

These are not that hard to look after. The truth is that they show no specific requirements and are incredibly adaptable. They can eat quite a lot of different types of food, hence being easy to feed and you don’t really need to worry about them having any specific diet. This is an important consideration. A simple enclosure could be bought at almost any regular pet store in your town.

Fun FactsSplash paint Chameleon

  • Almost half of the chameleon’s species in the world inhabit the Madagascar Island.
  • Some chameleons can change their pigmentation in almost any color there is.
  • They have 360 degrees arc vision.
  • They can see at two different directions at once.
  • They vary particularly in size and body structure.
  • Their tongues are usually at least 2 times the length of their actual body.
  • Male chameleons are a lot more ornamented in comparison to females.
  • Their hearing is not that great.
  • They have ultraviolet vision.
  • The American Chameleon is not actually a chameleon – it’s a lizard from the iguana family.

As you can see, there are plenty of popular and fascinating facts that you might be interested in finding out about the chameleons. If you want to own one, you can usually get it from the closest pet store as they are rather common house pets. However, make sure that you take good care of it. While they aren’t that demanding, it is important to ensure that you do, in fact, see that everything is handled perfectly so that they can thrive in their habitat. You should aim to reproduce their natural habitat as much as you can, even though it wouldn’t be much of a big deal if you fail to. After all, they are indeed particularly adaptable.

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