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Common Chameleon, Chamaeleo chamaeleon
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Lacertilia
Infraorder: Iguania
Family: Chamaeleonidae
Subfamilies and Genera

Chameleons (family Chamaeleonidae) are a distinctive and highly specialized clade of lizards. They are distinguished by their parrot-like zygodactylous feet, their separately mobile and stereoscopic eyes, their very long, highly modified, and rapidly extrudable tongues, their swaying gait, the possession by many of a prehensile tail, crests or horns on their distinctively shaped heads, and the ability of some to change color. Uniquely adapted for climbing and visual hunting, the approximately 160 species of chameleon range from Africa, Madagascar, Spain and Portugal, across south Asia, to Sri Lanka, have been introduced to Hawaii, California and Florida, and are found in warm habitats that vary from rain forest to desert conditions.



The English word chameleon (also chamaeleon) derives from the Latin chamaeleo which is borrowed from the Ancient Greek χαμαιλέων (khamaileon), a compound of χαμαί (khamai) "on the earth, on the ground" + λέων (leon) "lion". The Greek word is a calque translating the Akkadian nēš qaqqari, "ground lion".[1]


The oldest known chameleon fossil is that of Chamaeleo caroliquarti, found in Europe and dated to about 26 mya. However the chameleons are probably far older than that, perhaps sharing a common ancestor with iguanids and agamids more than 100 mya (agamids being more closely related). Fossil evidence has also been found in Africa and Asia, and suggests that chameleons were once more widespread than they are today. They may have their origins in Madagascar, which today is home to nearly half of all known species in this family, and later dispersed to other areas.[2]


Cape Dwarf Chameleon, Tokai, South Africa

Chameleons vary greatly in size and body structure, with maximum total length varying from 3.3 cm (1.3 in.) in Brookesia minima (one of the world's smallest reptiles) to 68.5 cm (27 in.) in the male Furcifer oustaleti.[3] Many have head or facial ornamentation, such as nasal protrusions, or horn-like projections in the case of Chamaeleo jacksonii, or large crests on top of their head, like Chamaeleo calyptratus. Many species are sexually dimorphic, and males are typically much more ornamented than the female chameleons.

Chameleon species have in common their foot structure, eyes, lack of ears, and tongues.

Oustalet's Chameleon, Ambalavao, Madagascar

Chameleons are didactyl: on each foot the five toes are fused into a group of two and a group of three, giving the foot a tongs-like appearance. These specialized feet allow chameleons to grip tightly to narrow branches. Each toe is equipped with a sharp claw to gain traction on surfaces such as bark when climbing. The claws make it easy to see how many toes are fused into each part of the foot — two toes on the outside of each front foot and three on the inside.

Their eyes are the most distinctive among the reptiles. The upper and lower eyelids are joined, with only a pinhole large enough for the pupil to see through. They can rotate and focus separately to observe two different objects simultaneously. It in effect gives them a full 360-degree arc of vision around their body. When prey is located, both eyes can be focused in the same direction, giving sharp stereoscopic vision and depth perception. They have very good eyesight for reptiles, letting them see small insects from a long (5-10 cm) distance.

They lack a vomeronasal organ. Also, like snakes, they do not have an outer or a middle ear. This suggests that chameleons might be deaf, although it should be noted that snakes can sense vibration using a bone called the quadrate. Furthermore, some or maybe all chameleons, can communicate via vibrations that travel through solid substrates such as branches.

Chameleons have very long tongues (sometimes longer than their own body length) which they are capable of rapidly extending out of the mouth.

Tongue structure

The tongue extends out faster than human eyes can follow, at around 26 body lengths per second. The tongue hits the prey in about 30 thousandths of a second.[4] The tongue of the chameleon is a complex arrangement of bone, muscle and sinew. At the base of the tongue there is a bone and this is shot forward giving the tongue the initial momentum it needs to reach the prey quickly. At the tip of the elastic tongue there is a muscular, club-like structure covered in thick mucus that forms a suction cup.[5] Once the tip sticks to a prey item, it is drawn quickly back into the mouth, where the chameleon's strong jaws crush it and it is consumed. Ultraviolet light is part of the visible spectrum for chameleons.[6] Chameleons exposed to ultraviolet light show increased social behavior and activity levels, are more inclined to bask and feed and are also more likely to reproduce as it has a positive effect on the pineal gland.

Distribution and habitat

The tiny, usually brown-colored Brookesia chameleons are mainly terrestrial

Chameleons are primarily found in the mainland of sub-Saharan Africa and on the island of Madagascar, although a few species are also found in northern Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, southern India, Sri Lanka and several smaller islands in the western Indian Ocean. There are introduced, feral populations of veiled and Jackson's chameleons in Hawaii and isolated pockets of feral Jackson's chameleons have been reported in California and Florida.

Chameleons inhabit all kinds of tropical and mountain rain forests, savannas and sometimes deserts and steppes. The "typical" chameleons from the subfamily Chamaeleoninae are arboreal and usually found in trees or bushes, although a few (notably the Namaqua Chameleon) are partially or largely terrestrial. Most species from the subfamily Brookesiinae, which includes the genera Brookesia, Rieppeleon and Rhampholeon, live low in vegetation or on the ground among leaf litter.


West Usambara Two-Horned Chameleon (Kinyongia multituberculata) in the Usambara mountains, Tanzania.

Chameleons are mostly oviparous, some being ovoviviparous.

The oviparous species lay eggs after a 3–6 week gestation period. The female will climb down to the ground and begin digging a hole, anywhere from 10–30 cm (4–12 in.) deep depending on the species. The female turns herself around at the bottom of the hole and deposits her eggs. Once finished, the female buries lina and leaves the nesting site. Clutch sizes vary greatly with species. Small Brookesia species may only lay 2–4 eggs, while large Veiled Chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) have been known to lay clutches of 80–100 eggs. Clutch sizes can also vary greatly among the same species. Eggs generally hatch after 4–12 months, again depending on species. The eggs of Parson's Chameleon (Calumma parsonii), a species which is rare in captivity, are believed to take upwards of 24 months to hatch.

The ovoviviparous species, such as the Jackson's Chameleon (Chamaeleo jacksonii) have a 5–6 month gestation period. The newborn are in a transparent membrane and they are still sleeping, once they touch the ground or branch, they will wake up and attempt to crawl out of the membrane.[citation needed] The female can have 8–31 live young at once.

Feeding behaviour

Chameleons generally eat locusts, mantis, crickets, grasshopper and other insects, but larger chameleons have been known to eat small birds and other lizards. A few species, such as Jackson's Chameleon (C. jacksonii) and the Veiled Chameleon (C. calyptratus) will consume small amounts of plant matter. Chameleons prefer running water to still water.[citation needed]

Chameleons require lots of vitamins and minerals[citation needed]. To ensure sufficient nutrients, zoo-keepers "gut-load" insects before feeding them to chameleons, by rearing them on a diet of potatoes, fish flakes (tropical), dry puppy food, dark leafy greens, etc. and dusting them with vitamin and mineral powders.[citation needed]

Change of color

This Common Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) turned black

Some chameleon species are able to change their skin colors. Different chameleon species are able to change different colors which can include pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, light blue, yellow and turquoise.[7][8]

Some varieties of chameleon - such as the Smith's dwarf chameleon - use their color-changing ability to blend in with their surroundings, as an effective form of camouflage.[9]

Color change is also used as an expression of the physiological condition of the lizard, and as a social indicator to other chameleons. Some research suggests that social signaling was the primary driving force behind the evolution of color change, and that camouflage evolved as a secondary concern.[10][11]

Chameleons have specialized cells, collectively called chromatophores, that lie in layers under their transparent outer skin. The cells in the upper layer, called xanthophores and erythrophores, contain yellow and red pigments respectively. Below these is another layer of cells called iridophores or guanophores, and they contain the colorless crystalline substance guanine. These are particularly strong reflectors of the blue part of incident light. If the upper layer of itchromatophores appears mainly yellow, the reflected light becomes green (blue plus yellow). A layer of dark melanin contained in melanophores is situated even deeper under the reflective iridophores. The melanophores determine the 'lightness' of the reflected light. These specialized cells are full of pigment granules, which are located in their cytoplasm. Dispersion of the pigment granules in the cell grants the intensity of appropriate color. If the pigment is equally distributed in the cell, the whole cell has the intensive color, which depends on the type of chromatophore cell. If the pigment is located only in the center of the cell, cell appears to be transparent. All these pigment cells can rapidly relocate their pigments, thereby influencing the color of the chameleon.


Camaleón - Calidad- 5.ogg


  1. ^ entry for "chameleon"
  2. ^ Tolley, Krystal; Burger, Marius (2007). Chameleons of Southern Africa. Struik. pp. 26-28. ISBN 1770073752. 
  3. ^ Glaw, Frank; Vences, Miguel (1994). A Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar 2nd edition. Köln: M. Vences & F. Glaw Verlags GbR. ISBN 3-929449-01-3. .
  4. ^ A Lethal Lashing Tongue
  5. ^ Piper, Ross (2007), Extraordinary Animals: An Encyclopedia of Curious and Unusual Animals, Greenwood Press.
  6. ^ Chameleon News, August 2004
  7. ^ National Geographic. May 2007. P. 10.
  8. ^ National Geographic Explorer (Student Magazine) - Featured Article
  9. ^ Emma Young (2008). Chameleons fine-tune camouflage to predator's vision. New Scientist
  10. ^ Stuart-Fox, D., & Moussalli, A. (2008). Selection for social signalling drives the evolution of chameleon color change. Public Library of Science Biology, 6, e25.
  11. ^ Harris, Tom. "How Animal Camouflage Works". How Stuff Works. Retrieved 2006-11-13. 

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CHAMELEON, the common name of one of the three suborders of Lacertilia or lizards. The chief genus is Chamaeleon, containing most of the fifty to sixty species of the whole group, and with the most extensive range, all through Africa and Madagascar into Arabia, southern India and Ceylon. The Indian species is Ch. calcaratus; the dwarf chameleon of South Africa is Ch. pumilus; the giant of the whole tribe, reaching a total length of 2 ft., is Ch. parsoni of Madagascar. The commonest species in the trade is Ch. vulgaris of North Africa, introduced into southern Andalusia. A few queer genera, with much stunted tail, e.g. Rhampholeon, in tropical Africa and Brookesia in Madagascar are the most aberrant. The common chameleon is the most typical. The head is raised into a pyramidal crest far beyond the occiput, there is no outer ear, nor a drum-cavity. The limbs are very long and slender, and the digits form stout grasping bundles; on the hand the first three form an inner bundle, opposed to the remaining two; on the foot the inner bundle is formed by the first and second toe, the outer by the other three toes. The tail is prehensile, by being rolled downwards; it is not brittle and cannot be renewed. The eyeballs are large, but the lids are united into one concentric fold, leaving only the small pupil visible. The right and left eyes are incessantly moved separately from each other and literally in every direction, up and down, forwards and straight backwards, producing the most terrible squinting. Chameleons alone of all reptiles can focus their eyes upon one spot, and conformably they alone possess a retinal macula centralis, or spot of acutest, binocular vision. The tongue has attained an extraordinary development. It is club-shaped, covered with a sticky secretion, and based upon a very narrow root, which is composed of extremely elastic fibres and telescoped over the much elongated, style-shaped, copular piece of the hyoid. The whole apparatus is kept in a contracted state like a spring in a tube. When the spring is released, so to speak, by filling the apparatus with blood and by the play of the hyoid muscles, the heavy thick end shoots out upon the insect prey and is withdrawn by its own elasticity.

Left Forefoot of Chamaeleon o'shaughenesii, outer view.

The whole act is like a flash. An ordinary chameleon can shoot a fly at the distance of fully 6 in., and it can manage even a big sphinx moth.

Another remarkable feature is their changing of colour. This proverbial power is greatly exaggerated. They cannot assume in succession all the colours of the rainbow, nor are the changes quick. The common chameleon may be said to be greenish grey, changing to grass-green or to dull black, with or without maroon red, or brown, lateral series of patches. At night the same specimen assumes as a rule a more or less uniform pale strawcolour. After it has been watched for several months, when all its possibilities seem exhausted, it will probably surprise us by a totally new combination, for instance, a black garb with many small yellow specks, or green with many black specks. Pure red and blue are not in the register of this species, but they are rather the rule upon the dark green ground colour of the South African dwarf chameleon. The changes are partly under control of the will, partly complicated reflex actions, intentionally adaptive to the physical and psychical surroundings. The mechanism is as follows. The cutis contains several kinds of specialized cells in many layers, each filled with minute granules of guanine. The upper cells are the smallest, most densely filled with crystals, and cause the white colour by diffusion of direct light; near the Malpighian layer the cells are charged with yellow oil drops; the deeper cells are the largest, tinged light brown, and acting as a turbid medium they cause a blue colour, which, owing to the superimposed yellow drops, reaches our eye as green; provided always that there is an effective screen at the back, and this is formed by large chromatophores which lie at the bottom and send their black pigment half-way up, or on to the top of the layers of guanine and oil containing cells. When all the pigment is shifted towards the surface, as near the epidermis as possible, the creature looks black; when the black pigment is withdrawn into the basal portions of the chromatophores the skin appears yellow.

The lungs are very capacious, and end in several narrow blind sacs which extend far down into the body cavity, so that not only the chest but the whole body can be blown up. This happens when the animals hiss and fight, as they often do. But when they know themselves discovered, they make themselves as thin as possible by compressing the chest and belly vertically by means of their peculiarly elongated ribs. The whole body is then put into such a position that it presents only its narrow edge to the enemy, and with the branch of the tree or shrub interposed. They are absolutely arboreal, but they hibernate in the ground.

The usual mode of propagation is by eggs, which are oval, numerous, provided with a calcareous shell, and buried in humus, whence they are hatched about four months later. But a few species, e.g. the dwarf chameleon, are viviparous.

Chameleons are insectivorous. They prefer locusts, grasshoppers and lepidoptera, but are also fond of flies and mealwoirns. They are notoriously difficult to keep in good health. They want not only warmth, but sunshine, and they must have water, which they lick up in drops from the edges of wet leaves whenever they have a chance. The silliness of the fable that they live on air is shown by the fact that they usually die in an absolutely emaciated and parched condition after three or four months' starvation. (H. F. G.) In astronomy, "Chamaeleon" is a constellation situated near the south pole and surrounded by the constellations of Octans, Mensa, Piscis volans, Carina (Nauta), Musca and Apus. In chemistry, "chameleon mineral" is a name applied to the green mass which is obtained when pyrolusite (manganese dioxide) is fused with nitre, since a solution in water assumes a purple tint on exposure to the air; this change is due to the oxidation of the manganate, which is first formed, to a permanganate.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010
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Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Wikipedia has an article on:


Cape Dwarf Chameleon

Alternative spellings


From Latin chamaeleon < Ancient Greek χαμαιλέων (khamaileōn) from χαμαί (khamai), on the earth, on the ground) + λέων (leon), lion). First attested in 1340.


  • IPA: /kəˈmi:lɪən/




chameleon (plural chameleons)

  1. A small to mid-size reptile, of the family Chamaeleonidae, and one of the best known lizard families able to change color and project its long tongue.
  2. A person with inconstant behavior; one able to quickly adjust to new circumstances.



chameleon (not comparable)


not comparable

none (absolute)

  1. Describing something that changes color.
    The wall was covered with a chameleon paint.

External links

  • chameleon in Webster’s Revised Unabridged Dictionary, G. & C. Merriam, 1913
  • chameleon in The Century Dictionary, The Century Co., New York, 1911



chameleon m.

  1. chameleon

Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

A species of lizard which has the faculty of changing the colour of its skin. It is ranked among the unclean animals in Lev 11:30, where the Hebrew word so translated is coah (R.V., "land crocodile"). In the same verse the Hebrew tanshemeth, rendered in Authorized Version "mole," is in Revised Version "chameleon," which is the correct rendering. This animal is very common in Egypt and in the Holy Land, especially in the Jordan valley.

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Simple English

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Iguania
Family: Chamaeleonidae

A chameleon is a reptile. Some kinds of this animal change the colours of their skins under influence of mood, light and temperature. Chameleons have long sticky tongues that they can stretch up to two times their body size. Their eyes can move independently. The name chameleon means an earth lion which comes from the Greek word chamai which means earth and leon meaning lion. They are lizards with scales and feet eclipsed with sharp claws. The largest species is about 1.5 feet when fully grown. They are mainly insectivores, but they do take occasional smaller lizards. They can be found in Europe, the USA, and Africa (mostly Madagascar).

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