The chameleon is a member of the lizard family and is found mainly in Africa and Madagascar, though small numbers of them can also have distribution in Europe and South Asia. These solitary animals are famous for their bulging eyes and ability to change color.
Chameleons have learned to adapt to a variety of different habitats and are commonly found in trees and shrubs in rainforests, savannahs, and mountainous forests. There are also some species of chameleons that prefer lower ground, and they can forage for food amongst dead leaves on the forest floor.
There are over 160 different species of chameleons, and they can range in size from around 2.5 to 38 cm in length - the pygmy leaf chameleon, for example, is the smallest member of the chameleon family and is less than 3 cm long.
Chameleons have long, curled tails, and large eyes that have 360-degree vision. Vision is the chameleon’s most developed sense, and this enables it to hunt prey and spot predators very quickly. Chameleons have very poor hearing and virtually no sense of smell.
The chameleon has a very long and sticky tongue that can shoot out of its mouth at high speed to capture prey. The tongue can measure up to one and a half times the length of the chameleon, and this enables the creature to catch flies in mid-air. The tip of the tongue has an abrasive surface, covered with sticky saliva.
A common misconception about chameleons is that they change color to camouflage themselves. The color change is triggered by emotion, temperature, and light. They are usually a greenish color, but direct sunlight can darken their color to dark gray or black. Anger also causes a darkening of the skin, but fright and excitement produce pale shades. The color change can occur within seconds and produce by pigment cells that lie in layers under the chameleon’s outer skin.
Chameleons are not active hunters and will sit perfectly still for hours while they wait for prey to appear. Their diet consists mainly of small insects, but larger chameleons will also eat small birds and other lizards.
Most chameleons lay eggs, but some species give birth to live young. Young chameleons reach sexual maturity between 2 and 12 months – depending on the species. Eggs are buried under the soil and can take as long as 8 months to hatch.
Panther chameleons can live between 2 and 3 years in the wild; Veiled chameleons can live life up to 5 years and Jackson’s chameleons between 5 and ten years.
Chameleons have several predators that include birds, snakes, and other lizards.
Interesting and amusing facts
Chameleons can go for extended periods of time without eating. Unlike many other reptiles, chameleons can see in color. When chameleons get tired, they can often be seen sleeping upside down!
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