Chameleons or chamaeleons (family Chamaeleonidae) are a distinctive and highly specialized clade of old world lizards with 202 species described as of June 2015.
These species come in a range of colors, and many species have the ability to change colors.
All chameleons are found in the Old World, but most live in Madagascar and Africa.The rest are found in the Middle East, a few on islands in the Indian Ocean, and one, the Indian chameleon, in India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. Another, the common chameleon, is native to Spain, Portugal, the islands in the Mediterranean Sea, and the Near East.
Chameleons live in a variety of habitats, from rain forests and lowlands to deserts, semi-deserts, scrub savannas, and even mountains. Many inhabit trees, but some live in grass or on small bushes, fallen leaves, or dry branches.
As a species, chameleons will generally live 2 to 3 years in the wild. Chameleons who live in captivity generally live longer than those who live in the wild. The life span of a captive chameleon can range between 3 and 10 years.
The longest is Malagasy giant or Oustalet’s chameleon up to 60 centimeters (23 inches).
The shortest is Brookesia micra, which reaches 1.5 centimeters (0.6 inches).
Chameleons are solitary and extremely territorial, rejecting even the company of other chameleons.
Most lizards have five toes, but the chameleon’s five toes are modified into groups: on the forefoot, the two outside toes are joined to form one group, and the three inside toes form another; the hind foot has the opposite arrangement. This allows them to grasp branches just like our thumbs and fingers can grasp objects.
Chameleons also use their long tail when moving in the trees to grab a branch and secure their position.The chameleon’s tail cannot be broken off and regrown like those of many other lizards.
Chameleons have the most distinctive eyes of any reptile. The upper and lower eyelids are joined, with only a pinhole large enough for the pupil to see through. Each eye can pivot and focus independently, allowing the chameleon to observe two different objects simultaneously. This gives them a full 360-degree arc of vision around their bodies.
How chameleons change color is a fascinating and complicated process. First of all, they don’t really change color to match their surroundings, and they cannot change to any and all colors. For example, if a chameleon is sitting on a red-and-white polka dot tablecloth, it will not turn red and develop round, white spots! Chameleons don’t look at what they’re sitting on and deliberately decide to match it. Instead, each chameleon species has a group of patterns and colors that it is able to display.
Chameleon skin has a superficial layer which contains pigments, and under the layer are cells with guanine crystals.Chameleons change color by changing the space between the guanine crystals, which changes the wavelength of light reflected off the crystals which changes the color of the skin.
Color change in chameleons has functions in social signaling and in reactions to temperature and other conditions, as well as in camouflage.
Chameleons are largely carnivorous, eating a varied diet of insects, although some larger chameleons will eat birds and lizards. Chameleons enjoy insects like crickets, grasshoppers, locusts and stick bugs. Some chameleons, specifically the veiled chameleon, also eats a small amount of plants and flowers.
Chameleons don’t move around very fast, so they depends upon its long, sticky tongue to catch prey. When a chameleon spots an insect, it quickly snaps out its tongue. When its tongue hits the insect it creates suction that allows the chameleon to pull the insect into its mouth.
Chameleon’s tongue is propelled by incredible speed: it takes 0.07 seconds for tongue to reach the victim.Their tongue can be 1.5 to 2 times longer than their body (excluding tail).
Males are females do not always look the same. Males usually have more “ornaments”, such as horns, spikes and nasal-protrusions.They are used when male defends its territory.
Most female chameleons lay eggs but some species such as the Jackson’s chameleon have a five to seven month gestation period.
The female will dig a hole — from 10–30 cm (4–12 in), deep depending on the species — and deposit her eggs.
Small species lay 2 to 4 eggs and large species lay 80 to 100 eggs.Species that give live birth produce 8 to 30 young.
A few days after the young hatch or are born, they begin to hunt insects. They instinctively know how to survive without a parent to teach them. The hatchlings look like miniature adults, except that their coloration and markings are not as bright.
Snakes and birds are the most common predators of the chameleon, along with some mammals.
Today many chameleon species are considered to be threatened with extinction, and other chameleon species are even considered to to endangered.
The egg of the rare Parson’s chameleon is believed to take up to two years to hatch.
Chameleons seem to prefer running water to still water.
The name chameleon means earth lion and comes from the Greek words “chamai” (on the ground, on the earth) and “leon” (lion). –