Types Of Chameleon

By Snaketracks / August 31, 2020

There are many different types of chameleons in the world (202 species), and they all vary greatly in size, shape, and color.

Most people find chameleons astonishing and mysterious. Astonishing because of their capability of changing color – a mechanism that is not just meant to camouflage and help evade predators but also signals a chameleon’s physiological condition and intentions to other chameleons.

Mysterious because of their looks, including crests or horns on their brow and snout that resembles dinosaurs.the dogs of Chernobyl – no captions

However, there is still more to be surprised about chameleons: their eyes, tongue, feet, and tail.

  • Eyes: They have the most distinctive eyes of any reptile. They have a stereoscopic vision, and their eyes  are independently mobile, even if when  aiming at a prey item, they focus forward in coordination
  • Tongue: They have very extensive, highly modified, rapidly extrudable tongues
  • Feet: They have zygodactylous feet that somehow resembles the functions of human’s hands (opposable digits on the front and back feet)
  • Tail: Most chameleon species (the larger ones in particular) have a prehensile tail. For this reason, the chameleon’s tail cannot be broken off and regrow like those of many other lizards

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.

Quick Reference Section

  • There are 202 species of chameleons described as of June 2015.
  • Chameleons vary greatly in size and body structure, with maximum total lengths varying from 15 mm (0.59 in) in male  Brookesia Micra (one of the world’s smallest reptiles) to 68.5 cm (27.0 in) in the male Furcifer oustaleti.
  • Over a third of the world’s chameleon species are threatened with extinction.
  • Nine species have been listed as Critically Endangered, 37 as Endangered, and 20 as Vulnerable. That is a total of 66 threatened chameleons.
  • Chameleons are so much more threatened than reptiles in general. This is because so many chameleon species are “range-restricted,” which means that “these species are endemic to small geographic areas, often a particular habitat on a single mountain.

Video On Chameleons

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Most Common Types Of Chameleon Kept As Pets

Chameleon on Branch
Chameleon on Branch

Chameleons make fascinating pets, even if they are not meant for the beginner hobbyist.

The Types of Chameleon most commonly kept as pets are:

  1. Veiled Chameleon – Chamaeleo calyptratus
  2. Jackson’s Chameleon – Trioceros jacksonii
  3. Panther Chameleon – Furcifer pardalis
  4. Bearded Pygmy Chameleon – Rieppeleon brevicaudatus
  5. Spectral Pygmy Chameleon – Rhampholeon spectrum
  6. Carpet Chameleon – Furcifer lateralis

1. Veiled Chameleon – Chamaeleo calyptratus

Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)
Quick Facts
  • Other Common Name: Yemen Chameleon
  • Color: Green and light colors
  • Length (male): 35-60 cm
  • Length (female): 25-33 cm
  • Other Distinctive Features:
  • Lifespan: 5 years in the wild, 6-8 years in captivity
  • Reproduction: Oviparous
  • Egg-laying: Female Veiled Chameleons can produce three clutches of eggs a year. Each clutch may have 20 to 70 eggs and take 6 to 9 months to hatch
  • Diet: Veiled Chameleons are omnivores, eating insects, leaves, and flowers
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Veiled Chameleon is a large chameleon species found in the mountain regions of Yemen and Saudi Arabia, where there is very little water.

Both males and females have a decorative growth on their heads that looks like a party hat called a casque. The casque acts as a water collector. At night, droplets of moisture roll down the casque and into the chameleon’s open mouth! This male chameleon also has a spur on each hind leg.

Behavior & Temperament

Veiled Chameleons are territorial and aggressive to other chameleons. Thus, they should always be housed individually. While they are usually quite docile towards people, regular handling tends to be stressful for them. Therefore, they are a pet chameleon better suited to being watched rather than handled.

Check out the Veiled Chameleon care sheet for more information.

2. Jackson’s Chameleon – Trioceros jacksonii

Jackson’s Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii)
Quick Facts
  • Other Common Names: Jackson’s Horned Chameleon, Horned Chameleon, or Kikuyu Three-Horned Chameleon
  • Color: Bright green and light colors
  • Length (male): 23-33 cm
  • Length (female): 25-33 cm
  • Other Distinctive Features: The generic name, Trioceros, is derived from the Greek τρί- (tri-) meaning “three” and κέρας (kéras) meaning “horns”. This is about the three horns found on the heads of males somewhat reminiscent of the ceratopsid dinosaur genus Triceratops
  • Lifespan: 5-10 years
  • Reproduction: Jackson’s Chameleon gives birth to offspring soon before they are ready to hatch from their egg sac. Eight to thirty live young are born after a five to six-month gestation. The subspecies T. j. merumontanus gives birth to five to ten live young
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

Jackson’s chameleon is a chameleon species native to East Africa but was also introduced to Hawaii, Florida, and California. However, they weren’t discovered by a scientist named Jackson. Rather their name comes from an ornithologist and prior governor of Kenya, Frederick Jack.

Behavior & Temperament

A Jackson chameleon is territorial and should be housed individually. Handling is stressful to them. So, as with other chameleons, they are a chameleon pet better suited to being watched than handled.

Check out the Jackson’s Chameleon care sheet for more information.

3. Panther Chameleon – Furcifer pardalis

panther chameleon (furcifer pardalis)

The Panther Chameleon is a species of chameleon found in the eastern and northern parts of Madagascar. Additionally, it has been introduced to Réunion and Mauritius.

Quick Facts
  • Length (male): 38-53 cm
  • Length (female): 23-33 cm
  • Other Distinctive Features: Its generic name Furcifer is derived from the Latin root furci meaning “forked,” and refers to the shape of the lizard’s feet. The specific name pardalis refers to the animals’ markings, as it is Latin for “leopard” or “spotted like a panther”
  • Lifespan: About five years in captivity (2–3 for birthing female chameleon)
  • Lifestyle: Diurnal
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
Color

Coloration varies with geographical location. The different color patterns of Panther Chameleons are commonly referred to as ‘locales,’ which are named after the geographical location in which they are found.

Panther Chameleons from the areas of Nosy Be, Ankify, and Ambanja are typically a vibrant blue. And those from Ambilobe, Antsiranana, and Sambava are red, green, or orange. The areas of Maroantsetra and Tamatave yield primarily red specimens.

Numerous other color phases and patterns occur between and within regions. For example, females generally remain tan and brown with hints of pink, peach, or bright orange, no matter where they are found. However, there are slight differences in patterns and colors among the different color phases.

You can learn more about the Panther Chameleon’s color variation and history in the book, The Panther Chameleon: Color Variation, Natural History, Conservation, and Captive Management by Gary Ferguson.

Behavior & Temperament

Panther Chameleons are territorial and should be housed individually. Handling tends to be stressful. Thus, as with oPanther Chameleons are territorial and should be housed individually. Handling tends to be stressful. Thus, as with other chameleons, they are pets that are better suited to being watched rather than handled a lot.

Reproduction

After a gestation period of 30-45 days the female will descend to the ground and dig a burrow into which it lays 14-34 eggs. The female will not be involved in the hatching of her offspring and they will be independent at birth. Depending o

After a gestation period of 30-45 days, the female will descend to the ground and dig a burrow into which it lays 14-34 eggs. The female will not be involved in the hatching of her offspring, and they will be independent at birth. Depending on the temperature, incubation ranges between 160-362 days.

Check out the Panther Chameleon care sheet for more information.

4. Bearded Pygmy Chameleon – Rieppeleon brevicaudatus

Bearded Pygmy Chameleon (Rieppeleon brevicaudatus)

The Bearded Pygmy Chameleon originates from the eastern Usambara and Uluguru Mountains in northeastern Tanzania and Kenya.

Quick Facts
  • Other Common Name: Bearded Leaf Chameleon
  • Color: Brown, beige, green
  • Length (male): 5-8 cm
  • Length (female): 5-8 cm
  • Other Distinctive Features: It is easily distinguished from others in the Rieppeleon genus by the presence of a “beard” below the mouth, consisting of a few raised scales
  • Named after Latin “brevis, -e” = short and “cauda, -ae” = tail.
  • Lifespan: About 3–5 years
  • Behavior & Temperament: Docile
  • Reproduction: Oviparous
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern

The Bearded Pygmy Chameleon is capable of compressing its body laterally and producing a stripe down its side, mThe Bearded Pygmy Chameleon can compress its body laterally and produce a stripe down its side, mimicking a dead leaf. It often assumes this form when sleeping in the open.

5. Spectral Pygmy Chameleon – Rhampholeon spectrum

Spectral Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon spectrum)

The Spectral Pygmy Chameleon is a species native to mainland Africa (Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the CThe Spectral Pygmy Chameleon is a species native to mainland Africa (Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, and Nigeria).

Quick Facts
  • Other Common Names: Western Pygmy Chameleon or Cameroon Stump Tail Chameleon
  • Color: The overall base coloration is quite uniform in color and made up of varying shades of grey, brown, and black. This species commonly displays dark lateral stripes down its flanks
  • Length (male): 8-10 cm
  • Length (female): 5-10 cm
  • Lifespan: 3-5 years
  • Reproduction: Their reproductive habits are poorly known
  • Diet: Insectivore. Favorites are crickets, curly-wing flies, mealworms, and waxworms
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
Behavior & Temperament

They show a docile temperament. Although this species shows little intraspecific aggression, they do not fare well in social groups and are best kept singular or in sexed pairs.

6. Carpet Chameleon – Furcifer lateralis

Carpet Chameleon (Furcifer lateralis)

This species is endemic to Madagascar.

Quick Facts
  • Another Common Name: White-lined Chameleon and Jewel Chameleon
  • Color: The males are largely green, and females have a wider range of colors, including bands of white, yellow, and orange
  • Length: 17-25 cm
  • Lifespan: The Carpet Chameleon has a lifespan in the wild of one to two years. Even in the best circumstances, these chameleons rarely live longer than three years
  • Diet: Insectivore
  • Conservation Status: Least Concern
Reproduction

A female Carpet Chameleon will be ready to lay her eggs 14 to 35 days after breeding. Females usually produce 15 to 20 eggs per clutch with a high to perfect hatch rate every six to eight weeks from the time of sexual maturity until they die. Females are notorious for scattering their eggs instead of burying them.

Check out the Carpet Chameleon care sheet for more information.

Other Interesting Chameleon Types

7. Dwarf Chameleon

Dwarf Chameleon
Dwarf Chameleon: Bradypodion pumilum

This chameleon type is native to the South African province of the Western Cape, where it is restricted.

Quick Facts
  • Another Common Name: Slow-footed chameleon or Cape Dwarf Chameleon
  • Color: Mostly green with orange markings on its body and head. Males tend to be a much brighter green than duller females. A larger dwarf chameleon can be brightly colored with pink patches on their flank
  • Length: A Cape Dwarf Chameleon can grow to around 5.9 inches in length, including its tail. Males and females reach similar sizes as adults
  • Lifespan: This type of chameleon lacks sexual dimorphism and have a short lifespan of only about three to five years
  • Diet: Adults eat crickets and mealworms but also need moths, beetles, and flies for a complete diet
  • Conservation Status: They are listed as Vulnerable, as their population is decreasing.
Is It Illegal to Own a Dwarf Chameleon?

Yes. It is illegal to own a Cape Dwarf Chameleon. They are currently losing their habitat at a fast rate and keeping them as pets or enclosed affects their ability to reproduce and repopulate the species.

Habitat

South Africa has over 19 chameleon species. The dwarf chameleon lives in bushes, trees, and other areas of vegetation that can typically be found in gardens. While they are not territorial, they do tend to stay close to just one area. If they are removed from their habitat, the habitat changes, or confined, they will die a slow death.

Behavior & Temperament

Most chameleons are solitary and rarely engage with other chameleons in the same area. They also do not show aggression. However, sometimes there may be an interaction with another chameleon that can end in a fight where one will bite the other. The fight will continue until one of them leaves.

8. Fischer’s Chameleon

Fischer's Chameleon
Fischer’s Chameleon: K. fischeri

Fischer’s chameleon can be found in Kenya, Tanzania, and the Nguru and Usambara Mountains.

Quick Facts
  • Other Common Names: East Usambara Two Horned Chameleon
  • Color: Lime green, forest green, or brown with spots and patterns.
  • Length: Can grow up to between 7.5-inches and 9.5-inches in length
  • Lifespan: Fischer’s chameleons can live between three and five years
  • Diet: Feeder insects and small mammals. They will eat crickets, big mealworms, roaches, and even live pinky mice
  • Conservation Status: Near Threatened
Can You Keep a Fischer’s Chameleon as a Pet?

These chameleons vary when it comes to their size, color, and appearance, but you will find that only a few are actually kept in captivity as pets. Some chameleons require more work than others and don’t make the best companions. If you choose a Fischer’s chameleon, though, they make a good pet for adults but are not child-friendly.

Behavior & Temperament

These chameleons prefer individual housing, and the enclosure needs to be on the larger side. At a minimum, the chameleon cage should be 24 x 24 x 36-inches. Having visual barriers is important as well so the chameleon can hide.

Males are very territorial and should always be housed individually. However, they also have shown to be a shy and secretive chameleon species and can tolerate handling on occasion.

Check out the Fischer’s Chameleon Care Sheet for more information.

Conclusion

Chameleons make great pets, but they are pets meant for the experienced hobbyist because they are delicate creatures that get easily stressed.  Research must be done before acquiring any of these types of chameleons.

As it comes out from the above quick guides, chameleons have short lifespans, measured in years, not in decades, like other pet reptiles. However, even if concrete data on wild lizards and verifiable reports concerning captive specimens are rare, it’s clear that the larger chameleon species live longer than most of the smaller species do.

Even if the above-described species have all the Least Concern status, over a third of the world’s chameleon species are threatened with extinction.

One of the explanations of this phenomenon is that nearly half of chameleon species are found in only one country, Madagascar, an insanely-biodiverse island nation that has faced large-scale forest loss due to slash-and-burn farming, illegal logging, and agricultural fires. This has put many of the island’s unique species, including lemurs, on the endangered list.

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