Chameleons: Profile and Information

photo of chameleon near the water
Photo by Thameur Dahmani on

Chameleons are not only colorful but are also interesting reptiles. As we all know, chameleons are capable of changing the colors of their skin. Male and female chameleons have different color pigmentations.

Juvenile and female chameleons are tan-brown with traces of orange or pink. Male chameleons, however, have different combinations of green, blue, bright red, and yellow.

Chameleons are closely related to the iguana suborder. These vibrant lizards are also part of very few animals that can change the color of their skin.

It is, however, a strong misconception that chameleons switch colors to match their environments.


According to the ITIS ( Integrated Taxonomic Information System), there exist 171 species of chameleons. With this much different species, these chameleons have to come in different sizes.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the largest chameleon recorded is the Parson’s chameleon. It grows up to 69.5 centimeters (37 inches) long. The Oustalet’s, also known as the Madagascan chameleon, is considerably very large and can grow up to 60 cm (23 inches) long.

The smallest chameleon, however, has a specific distinction. It is also one of the tiniest vertebrates ever found. The leaf chameleon can grow to about 16 millimeters (0.5 inches) and are able to sit on the head of a match stick comfortably.

Chameleons, unlike other reptiles, don’t stop growing throughout their lives. They shed their skin in little pieces as their old skin becomes too small, dissimilar to snakes that are able to shed all at once.

The skin of many colors

Changing skin color is a vital part of communication among this reptile. “Chameleons switch their skin color in response to emotions, such as fear or anger, change in light, humidity or temperature,” according to the San Diego Zoo.

Male chameleons appear more attractive and more dominant, depending on how bright they display their skin color.

Submissive male chameleons often display gray or brown skin. Female chameleons then choose male suitors that appear most attractive. Female chameleons can also use their color to indicate that they are pregnant.

A recent study has shown that chameleons are able to rapidly change colors by adjusting specific cells, -known as iridophore cells,- in each layer. By exciting or relaxing their skin, chameleons can change the arrangement of upper cell structures, which causes a change in skin color.


Chameleons live in Africa, Madagascar, Spain, Asia, and Portugal in savannas, rain forests, stepped, and semi-deserts. They naturally stay in bushes or trees, while some species live on the ground. For instance, the horned leaf chameleon can be found in dead leaves on forest floors.


Chameleons diet consists of birds and insects. They creep in very slowly to catch their prey. Once they have their prey close enough, they shoot out their long sticky tongues to catch their meal.

The chameleons’ tongue is twice as long as their body, according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Once they catch their prey, it is then drawn to the back of the color shifter’s mouth, where it is broken down and digested by active stomach acids.

Water is very vital to the growth and health of a chameleon. They either inhale water, or they slurp it using their tongues.


Most chameleons use their prehensile tails to wrap around branches of trees. They also use their large toes that can firmly grip on branches.

Asides having the ability to change colors, chameleons possess another feature that other animals don’t. They are able to move their eyes independent of each other. This feature allows them to focus on two different directions at the same time. Like camera lenses, chameleons can quickly enlarge their focus on an object.

Naturally, chameleons are loners. Most times, female chameleons prefer to be left alone by male chameleons. On rare occasions, a female chameleon doesn’t mind company, and male chameleons may then approach them for mating. As stated earlier, brighter colored males are more likely to get the girls than duller-looking males.


Chameleons show many dissimilarities from many reptiles because species like Jackson’s chameleon have live births. The Jackson’s chameleon can give birth to (8 to 30) baby chameleons at once, and their gestation period can last up to six months.

Even though young Jackson’s are born live, -unlike other reptiles that lay their young ones as eggs,- chameleon babies started as eggs. Jackson’s chameleon mothers have the eggs incubated inside their bodies instead of having them laid in nests.

Other species of chameleon lay eggs that get incubated for a period of 4 to 24 months, depending on what chameleon species it is. The number of eggs laid is solely dependent on the size of the chameleon. Small-sized chameleons lay about 2 to 4 eggs, while bigger chameleons can produce 80 to 100 at once.

Generally, chameleons hit maturity at 1 to 2 years old, no matter the chameleon species, except for the Madagascan chameleon. The Madagascan chameleon, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, has been tagged the vertebrate with the shortest lifespan in the world.

Their eggs get hatched in November, they reach adulthood in January, reproduce in February, and the whole adult population dies off, which concludes a lifespan of only three months.


The classification of chameleons, according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, is:

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Subkingdom: Bilateria
  • Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia
  • Subphylum: Vertebrata
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Superclass: Tetrapoda
  • Family: Chamaeleonidae
  • Subfamilies: Brookesiinae, Chamaeleoninae
  • Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
  • Order: Squamata
  • Suborder: Iguania

Genera & species

Within the two subfamilies are 171 species and nine genera. A few examples include— Furcifer oustaleti (Oustalet’s chameleon), Chameleo jacksonii (Jackson’s chameleon), Calumma parsonii (Parson’s chameleon), and Brookesia minima (pygmy leaf chameleon).

Many chameleon species are endangered. Many chameleon species are endangered, according to the (International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species).

Some species that are considered in danger of extinction are the Elandsberg dwarf chameleon, tiger chameleon, the Decary’s leaf chameleon, and the Namoroka leaf chameleon.

What do you think? Wouldn’t you like to have a chameleon as a pet? Do you have a chameleon? What do you think about them? Share your thoughts with us in the comments.

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