The Chameleon: an extraordinary reptile with surprising abilities

The chameleon is a scaled reptile that is part of the suborder of saurians , the same to which the lizard also belongs. It looks like a lizard with a crest, a sort of curious and very eccentric dragon. His ‘undulating’ gait, his enigmatic expression, his prehensile tail, his very long and infallible tongue in his grip and above all his extraordinary ability to blend in , make this little guy an absolute wonder of nature.

Chameleon where it lives and what characteristics

The chameleon is a diurnal reptile native to Africa . The latest census of this animal includes more than 200 species , half of which come from Madagascar .

The dimensions vary from 3 to 60 cm in length, with a curled or spread tail. The weight varies from 50 g to 150 g of the larger specimens.

Regardless of the size, all chameleons have a small , crested head , full of protuberances, small horns and growths, especially the males.

Chameleon as it moves

The toes of the front and hind legs are equipped with 2 specular claws in the shape of a pliers that allow the animal a firm and secure grip on the branches.

The tail is also prehensile and is used to give greater balance and synchrony to the movement. It can be considered fully its fifth leg. It allows them to hang from branches and, unlike other lizards , which can sacrifice their tails in case of danger, chameleons cannot separate from their tail.

What characterizes him most is his slow and undulatory gait and impassive expression.

Chameleon as a hunt

The animal can remain motionless for hours waiting for its grip and suddenly draw out its deadly tongue to catch prey on the fly. The credit is due to a very developed musculature and a viscous mucus that covers the surface of the tongue. Just think that it is 400 times stickier than the human tongue.

Its particular hunting technique is based on some very precise passages, refined over the time of evolution, so it is very rare for the chameleon to lose its target.

  • it rolls its eyes in all directions , to observe everything around while remaining motionless and to locate its prey.
  • stare at the prey with both eyes to obtain a binocular image and estimate the distance
  • quickly unrolls your tongue in 1/16 of a second.
  • it catches the insect with the tip of its tongue , covered in sticky saliva as if it were a sucker.

Chameleon how it breathes

This reptile  has no ears , and like many other reptiles it uses the vomero-nasal organ for hearing and smell .

However, it breathes from two small cavities on the top of its snout, and can hold its breath for up to two hours!

Chameleon how it eats

The tongue is used to catch prey and can be used exactly like a catapult. It stretches for a length greater than that of the animal itself, at a speed that can even reach 6 meters per second , thus leaving no escape for the insect chosen for the meal!

Another peculiarity of the chameleon are the eyes capable of rotating 360 ° independently of each other. This means that its view is always total and complete, but once the prey is identified, the eyes slit shut in the same direction.

Chameleon how it defends itself

Thanks to the round eyes that move independently, its vision is stereoscopic and allows you to perceive the depth of field and activate the tongue in an appropriate manner to the distance to be covered with millimeter precision.

In this way it targets the prey or the enemy and acts.

Chameleon as he sleeps

Much like the snake, the chameleon also has no ears . However, it is able to perceive frequencies between 200 and 600 Hz and to communicate with its peers through vibrations on the branches at frequencies that are not audible to the human ear.

They are diurnal animals, which see poorly in the dark, so they tend to sleep motionless on a branch where they feel safe, hidden by leaves. Being very habitual, they always prefer the same branch!

Chameleon how it reproduces

It is a solitary , shy animal that seeks company only during the mating season. The multiplication of the species occurs through egg laying.

These reptiles reach maturity around 5 months. In captivity, they can breed up to 3-4 times a year. During the courtship ritual, the female changes color and becomes relatively dark, while the male takes on brighter colors. After mating, the male and female separate.

The last three weeks gestation , after which the female female hides the eggs (between 15 and 60) in a hole underground. Six months later, the little chameleons emerge on the surface already autonomous and independent.

Chameleon how it dies

The life cycle of these reptiles is similar to that of some insects and is the shortest of all known terrestrial vertebrates .

Reproduction occurs in January, the eggs are laid in February-March and hatch in November. Males live on average from 4 to 8 years and females from 2 to 4 years. A longevity of over 10 years has been reported in Yemen’s chameleons.

They are very delicate reptiles, and the main reason for death is stress.

They can also suffer from dehydration (the skin is dry and the eyes sunken) and from various infections (ocular, mouth or tongue), which often result in breathing difficulties, eye leaks, feeding difficulties.

In addition, they may be prone to bone disease due to a lack of calcium and vitamin D3, due to low exposure to ultraviolet rays. The result is tremors, bent limbs, bent helmets, feeding and movement difficulties.

They may also have egg retention, stomatitis, and constipation.

A malnourished or diseased chameleon will have very pale skin, even white. When it is dead it turns black, just as  a healthy animal will have bright colors.

You can go to a veterinarian who specializes in exotic animals to treat your reptile if you suspect it is sick.

Camouflaged chameleon: how does it do it?

In a state of rest, the livery of the female is gray, brown, pink or reddish, while the males are more colored with contrasting pigmentations ranging from blue, to green and to yellow. All have transversal bands on the back (5 light and 5 dark), on the tail and on the limbs, while some rays arranged in a radial pattern are present on the head.

Chameleon: how it camouflages itself 

This reptile is best known for its extraordinary ability to change color to blend in. By doing so it manages to blend perfectly with any surface, hide in leaves and become practically invisible to most predators .

Chameleon: how it changes color and why

What not everyone knows, however, is that the chameleon does not camouflage itself so much for defense, but to express a precise emotional state  (receptivity of the female, perception of a danger, presence of a similar) or  health , as well as for the temperature. and brightness.

In particular, mood triggers a chemical process by which some chromophores in the skin are pigmented or reflect light. Four colors are available: black, blue, red and yellow. Pigmentation is controlled by the nervous system and is actually a form of communication. If he is calm, he takes on his natural greenish color , but if he is agitated or frightened or wants to conquer a female, he turns orange-red .

What does the word chameleon mean

The fact that the chameleon takes the color of its environment to hide from its predators is a characteristic of this reptile (homocromia), but in no case will it take the color of an object it touches, because it would have no interest in it.

A person designated by this term, figuratively speaking, is an individual who adapts to all situations in order to survive, have no problems or to please others.

The word chameleon comes from the Latin  chamaeleon which in turn originates from the ancient Greek χαμαμαιλέων, khamailéôn (which means ‘lion that drags itself on the ground’).

Chameleon which one to choose 

Chameleon which one to choose 

There are more than 150 species of chameleons and about half are found on the island of Madagascar. The most common species found in captivity are the Veiled Chameleon (Chameleo calyptratus) also called Yemen, the Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) from the island of Madagascar and Jackson’s Chameleon (Chamaeleo jacksonii) found in Kenya and Tanzania. .
Like most chameleons, these three species have the ability to change color. However, there are limits to the colors and shapes a chameleon can take.

Veiled chameleon

The Veiled Chameleon ( Chameleo Calyptratus ) is one of the largest species. Originally from the Arabian Peninsula, it is one of the few varieties recommended for those wishing to start breeding one of these saurians, notoriously difficult to manage in captivity. It reaches 40 cm in adulthood and can live up to 5 years.

Contrary to other species, the veiled chameleon must live in an aviary and not in a terrarium. In fact, it needs a lot of humidity,  which in a terrarium is possible only if well ventilated. Furthermore, since he is sensitive to stress, seeing his own reflection in a glass would confuse him, believing the image to be a possible enemy wants to invade his territory.

Panther Chameleon also called  Pardalis Chameleon

The Panther Chameleon  ( Furcifer pardalis ) is one of the largest species in the world: the male can reach 55 cm . And it is also one of the most colorful, which is why it is often hosted in zoos around the world.

It comes from Madagascar, and has also been introduced to the island of Réunion, where it is called “the sleepyhead”, where it is very common to find it in gardens and woods.

Domestic chameleon

More and more people decide to welcome a chameleon into their home even if it is not widespread among  pets .

Pay attention, however, to the specific needs of this animal which is very delicate and vulnerable . Outside its natural habitat, in fact, it suffers a lot from the stress of confinement. for this reason it is considered a difficult animal to look after.

In this state it develops a strong deficiency of vitamin C which causes a lowering of the immune defenses and dehydration . This makes it vulnerable and weak, easily attacked by parasites, viruses and bacteria.

Chameleon what it eats

Its diet is made up mostly of insects , in particular it is greedy for  locusts, mantises and crickets, beetles and fruit flies. 

The veiled chameleon is the only one who also appreciates vegetables such as lettuce, watercress, endive, flowers such as dandelions and even fruits such as mangoes.

Where to keep a chameleon

The terrarium

The size to comfortably accommodate an adult chameleon must be at least 60cm in side and 120cm in height. Furthermore, a glass terrarium for reptiles is not suitable, because it does not allow adequate air exchange. Net-walled terrariums similar to aviaries are recommended.

Being an animal that comes from hot and humid latitudes, the terrarium must be:

  • heated,  with a constant temperature between 32 ° and 24 °.
  • illuminated,  to synthesize vitamin D3, which is used to fix calcium in the body, this reptile needs constant light for at least 12 hours a day.
  • wet , for this it is necessary to spray at least 3 times a day with hot water.

To maintain the ideal micro-climate it is possible to use a mercury vapor lamp or a heating lamp complete with a UV 5.0 neon, which will guarantee constant light and heat, programming 12-hour cycles.

Another essential element is to respect the day-night cycle otherwise the biological rhythm of your lizard will be altered, stressing it and making it sick.

Inside the chameleon it is possible to insert plants with large leaves to give the reptile the possibility to hide and thus reduce stress. They will go well the photos , the schefflera , the dracaena .

Chameleon where to buy it

These saurians are classified in Appendix II of the Washington Convention, which authorizes their purchase and possession.

An invoice or transfer certificate must be provided at the time of purchase to prove the legal origin of your pet.

You can find it in stores specialized in exotic animals , do not trust the online ads, they could hide scams, much less accept to buy it during a trip to an exotic country, perhaps attracted by the very low price. These are animals included in the CITES list, so they cannot be sold and purchased without a regular accompanying document.

Price chameleon

Given that the chameleon is a reptile that lives well only in its natural environment and not in a terrarium in captivity, know that to buy a specimen you will have to be willing to spend a lot of money.

In fact, the price fluctuates between $200 to $600, in  addition to everything that will need to be spent to equip your home in the best possible way.