13 Chameleon Facts: They Can Change Colors and Catch Prey In 0.07 Seconds

Chameleons are reptiles, not amphibians. What makes these species so special is that they can change color. However, this ability is not to fit in with their surroundings. So why do they change color? Let’s find out more about chameleon facts.

Scientific name: Chamaeleonidae
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata

1. Chameleons can change their color

Most people think that chameleons change their colors to blend into the environment. But this is not correct! They don’t change their hue in response to their surroundings. They change their colors because of various causes, such as the light, humidity, and temperature of the surroundings, their mental and physical health, behavior reasons, pregnancy…

They may cool themselves down by brightening their skin, as lighter hues reflect more of the sunrays. Whereas, they can warm them up by darkening the color since dark colors absorb more heat. When stressed, they may turn black as well.

They also use the color-change ability to communicate. When a chameleon changes its color, it indirectly tells its opponents and potential partner what it’s thinking. Let’s look at some examples below:

– When a female (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) is ready to mate, she will let the male know by showing vivid yellow dots. If she isn’t in the mood, she will darken her skin and display blue and yellow patches to warn neighboring males to go away.

– When two male Chamaeleo gracilis come into contact with each other, their skin becomes paler and more densely speckled.

– The dominating, appealing males would have brighter colors, whereas submissive males will have deeper browns and greys.

Besides chameleons, there are many amazing camouflage animals which you can find out more below:

  1. Cuttles – chameleon of the sea
  2. Arctic fox – change coat in season
  3. Stonefish – the most venomous fish of all
  4. Eastern screech owl
  5. Vietnamese mossy frog – master of camouflage

2. How can chameleons change their colors?

Naturally, chameleons will have unique cells that contain color or pigment. These cells which are known as chromatophores are found in layers beneath their exterior skin. There are various types of chromatophores. They can have red, yellow, and black pigments, while others possess transparent crystals that can generate white and blue colors.

Pigments are normally stored in small sacs within cells. When a chameleon’s body temperature or mood changes, its neural system instructs certain chromatophores to stretch or shrink. This causes the chromatophores to change, making their skin change too.

A chameleon uses camouflage on tree

A delighted chameleon may turn red by fully extending all of his erythrophores, blotting out the other hues beneath them. Contrastly, a relaxed one may turn green.

The majority of chameleons change from brown to green and back, but some can change to any color: yellow, red, blue, or pink… The panther is believed to be the most color-changing chameleon. They can change in just about 20 seconds.

3. They have amazing eyesight

Chameleons have two big protruding eyes. Each one can move independently in two separate directions. For instance, one eye can look up and to the right, and the other may gaze down and to the left. This ability enables them to focus their attention on two separate objects at the same time and to monitor its environment for food without turning its head.

Not only that, each of its eyes can move 180o horizontally and 90o vertically. This means they can see in all directions if necessary! Their vision is so excellent that they can detect insects from 20 feet away. They can also detect predators approaching from behind them, allowing them time to flee before being captured.

Being able to see light in the UV spectrum is one of the most amazing abilities of these species. This ability help them target and catch their prey better and more accurately. According to scientists, when the species are exposed to UV rays, they tend to be more energetic, social, and enthusiastic in breeding. Perhaps, the pineal glands in their brains are activated by UV light. In the contrast, they don’t see well in the dark.

4. Chameleons have extremely powerful tongues

The amazing eyesight would be nothing if chameleons couldn’t catch the prey. That’s why they need long and sticky tongues.

These species have incredibly long tongues to grab the prey by quickly releasing them from their jaws. The tongue can be twice as long as the length of the body, excluding the tail.

Chameleon tongues are made up of both muscles and bones, and they are extraordinarily fast and powerful. Their tongues move so quickly that they may catch an insect in 0.07 seconds and occasionally attain accelerations of 41g. And there’s no way their prey can get away with a tongue like that. And this force amazingly remains the same even in condition that makes other reptiles extremely slow.

They shoot their tongues at great speeds and pull them back with the prey attached to them. With spit that is 400 times more sticky than humans’, they can draw even hefty prey into their opened mouths.

According to scientists, the smaller chameleon will have a stronger and faster tongue. Rhampholeon spinosus was the smallest species that can launch its tongue at the speed of 8500 feet per second (about 2600m/s). Whereas, the biggest one – Oustalet’s chameleon – had an 18% slower peak tongue acceleration rate.

5. They have special characteristics

Chameleons spend most of their time in the trees (arboreal). To adapt to life here, they have to have suitable characteristics.

– Ear: The 2 little holes on the sides of the head are their ears. You can barely see these ears because they are so small. And that’s the reason why their hearing ability is not so good, compared to their incredible vision. They have to depend on vibration and specific sounds to understand their surroundings. This lizard can only hear in the frequencies of 200Hz and 600Hz

– Tail:

Their long and gripping tail serves as a fifth limb. It can carry the whole body weight of the species, helps it move from branch to branch easily, and provides better strength and flexibility when it climbs the trees. When a chameleon sleeps, its tail curls like a tight ball.

Chameleons cannot drop their tails to distract predators like other lizards. Once a tail falls off, it won’t regenerate again.

– Toes:

Most lizard species have four to five toes that can move independently from each other, like ours. However, their limbs are different, they have Zygodactylous Toes. Those toes are joined together in opposite pairs of two and three. Its front feet have two exterior and three internal toes, and its hind feet have two inner and three outer toes. Each toe has a sharp nail. These toes work similarly to the human thumb, enabling them to grasp branches better.

In addition, unlike other lizards having sprawling limbs, chameleons normally place their legs practically squarely underneath their bodies. This position places the center of gravity precisely above the foot, helping them maintain balance when walking.

6. They like the heat

Chameleons are cold-blooded animals. Their body temperature is determined by their surroundings. They require heat from the sun. That’s why these creatures like to live in warm, tropical regions. When their temperature is lower than normal, they become lethargic, quit hunting, and are unable to digest food.

Facts: This lizard cannot swim. However, in rare cases, they may tumble into the water or must leap into the water to avoid danger. If they do, they will puff out and just float.

7. Chameleons make good pets

There are many and many people who keep these creatures as pets because they’re cute. And most of them are mainly from these three species: panther, veiled, and Jackson’s chameleons.

It seems to be easy to have a chameleon, however, this creature is not for anyone. They only make excellent pets in the appropriate conditions. Their behaviors may not fit anyone and they need a precise care program with a special approach.

Chameleons are timid, cautious, and lonesome animals. They want to be alone and don’t want to be affectioned by you. They don’t like to be touched or handled by humans. If you do it on purpose and multiple times, they will be stressed and feel threatened. If they think it’s a threat, they will hiss and bite you, even though they are not dangerous. There are some spieces, however, who are less concerned with human touch.

You shouldn’t pick up or touch a hissing and withdrawing chameleon in its cage since it can bite you. Although the bite is not poisonous, it’s still painful. So avoid touching or petting your lizard. If you must hold him, do not make him out of the cage forcefully or do anything that makes him stressed.

You can search to know more things that need to consider before buying one.

8. Their diet

Depending on the species, chameleons will have a different diet. Some species are herbivores, the others are carnivorous.

Most eat insects (grasshoppers, mantids, snails, worms, and crickets..) to live. They can consume up to 50 huge insects per day. Some can feed on little birds, lizards, and their own kind (the smaller ones). The other have diets based on fruits, berries, plant matter, and leaves.

9. Males are likely to show off

Like other creatures, the males of the species have rough look when compared to the females. They often bear horns and spikes. These features are not only for show but they are also used to camouflage and protect their territory.

10. Chameleons don’t live long

The lifespan of a chameleon is pretty short, the females’ longevity is even shorter than the males’. They live for three to five years, whereas males survive for 5 to 8 years. The Madagascan lives the shortest life in the world with only 3 months. After hatching, the Malgasy survives for 4 to 5 months. However, there’s always an exception. The Jackson’s chameleon can live the longest, for over 10 years. When kept in captivity, they can live for 9 to 10 years.

Let’s have a look at their life cycle:

To reproduce, they have 2 ways: oviparity and viviparity. Oviparous animals lay eggs that hatch outside their body. Most female chameleons reproduce this way. Whereas, viviparous animals lay eggs that hatch inside their body. Only a few species do this way, such as the Jackson’s chameleon.

– Oviparity

After mating, the oviparous females will experience the gestation period which lasts between 20 and 30 days. Different species lay a different number of eggs. The veiled chameleons mate three to four times per year, laying from 30 to 80 eggs at a time.

When the females are ready to lay eggs, they will burrow in the ground, lay eggs in there, and bury them under the sand. Then they abandon their kids to live on themselves.

An female chameleon lays eggs on the hole

It takes these eggs 4 – 12 months to hatch. Some may need longer time, while some can pause their time to grow (diapause) and resume development later. The babies begin hunting insects automatically within a few days of hatching. Without parents’ protection, the babies can be eaten by predators.

Fun Facts:
When a female chameleon achieves sexual maturity, she may begin to lay eggs with or without a male. These eggs are unfertilized.

– Viviparity

Unlike the oviparous chameleons, the viviparous females have a longer gestation period, about 170 to 220 days. The eggs are hatched inside the mothers. After that, the females give birth. A female can give birth to 30 babies at once. The young are wrapped in a sticky membrane when they are born. The mother will stick the babies to a tree and the babies will come out from that membrane.

After one year, they reach sexual maturity. However, in many species reach, the time is shorter – about 4 to 5 months. And they’ll be ready to mate when the time comes, which is normally in early spring.

When males are ready to mate, their colors get brighter, more vivid, and shift towards the blue and red range. The females will brighten their colors slightly. The male will not mate with the female unless she accepts him.

11. They have different shapes and sizes

There are approximately 150 different species around the world. Because they are found on the African, Asian, and European continents, they are referred to as “old world” lizards. The majority may be found in Africa and the Middle East, with Madagascar hosting more than half of the world’s chameleons. This place is home to 59 species that can’t be seen anywhere. Several species are from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, and the Indian Ocean region.

The Malagasy giant chameleon is the largest chameleon on earth in terms of length. People usually call it Oustalets’s Chameleon. The species include many members having a length of almost 70cm. You cannot see them anywhere else except Madagascar.

Malagasy giant is in Madagascar/ Cre: on the photo

Contrastly to the gigantic Malagasy, the Brookesia micra chameleon (a.k.a Nosy Hara leaf chameleon) is the smallest chameleon in the world. Their maximum length is just under 30 millimeters and their juvenile size is as big as the head of a matchstick. They are also native to Madagascar.

The tiniest species in the world

There are many other types:

– Rainbow chameleons (Calumma uetzi): are one of three new chameleon species discovered in Madagasca in 2018. It is the most colorful one you can find.

– Jackson’s chameleons (Trioceros jacksonii): is also known as Kikuyu three-horned or three-horned chameleons. Only the male has horns and these horns are used to defend his territory.

– Yemen chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) are also called cone-head or veiled chameleons. They are commonly found in the Arabian Peninsula’s jungles and forests.

– Piebald veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus): On their face, feet, and tail, there are distinct patterns of discoloration.

The other may include cuban false, pygmy, carpet chameleons…

The Indian Chamaeleonidae
Fun Facts:
The American chameleon does not belong to the Chamaeleonidae family. Instead, this lizard is connected to the iguana. Because of their color-changing ability, like the chameleons, they get a name like that.

12. They live on trees

Chameleons prefer to live in trees and bushes. Their habitats include rainforests, mountains, meadows, and deserts. Though most reside in trees, a few lives closer to the ground in tall grass clumps, heaps of leaves, and dunes.

Facts: Are the species endangered?
In total, about 37% of chameleons are going extinct. However, this number is just 19% for reptiles overall.

13. Chameleons have been around for a long time

According to paleontologists, when dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago, the first chameleon appeared. Anqingosaurus brevicephalus was the first one to be discovered in middle Paleocene Asia.

However, some said that these creatures existed in the middle Cretaceous period (about 100 million years ago) in Africa. This could explain why most chameleons are native to Madagascar. In short, these species must have shared the last ancestor with iguanas and “dragon lizards”.

The Akkadians first call them nes qaqqari which means lion of the ground. Over the centuries, this name remains its meaning and is used in different civilizations. In Greek, it is called “khamaileon”, “chamaeleon” in Latin, and “chameleon” in mordern English.

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