Chameleon

Chamaeleonidae

Last updated: May 27, 2024
Verified by: AZ Animals Staff
© Kinemator / Creative Commons / Original

There are more than 160 different species!


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Chameleon Scientific Classification

Kingdom
Animalia
Phylum
Chordata
Class
Reptilia
Order
Squamata
Family
Chamaeleonidae
Scientific Name
Chamaeleonidae

Read our Complete Guide to Classification of Animals.

Chameleon Conservation Status

Chameleon Locations

Chameleon Locations

Chameleon Facts

Main Prey
Insects, Snails, Leaves
Distinctive Feature
Exceptional vision and ability to change skin colour
Habitat
Tropical forests and desert
Diet
Omnivore
Lifestyle
  • Solitary
Favorite Food
Insects
Type
Reptile
Average Clutch Size
20
Slogan
There are more than 160 different species!

Chameleon Physical Characteristics

Color
  • Brown
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Black
  • Tan
  • Green
Skin Type
Scales
Top Speed
21 mph
Lifespan
4 - 8 years
Weight
0.01kg - 2kg (0.02lbs - 4.4lbs)
Length
2.8cm - 68.5cm (1.1in - 27in)

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Can change color to pink, red, green, yellow, turquoise, and other colors!

The chameleon, scientific name Chamaeleonidae, is a species of lizard known for their ability to change colors and degrees of brightness. There are over 160 species of chameleon spread across Madagascar, Spain, Africa, Asia, and Portugal. They have large eyes and curled tails, and some species can change the color of their skin to blend in with their surroundings as a defense mechanism from predators. These lizards can change their skin to pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, light blue, yellow, and turquoise.

Chameleon infographic

Fun Facts

  1. The word chameleon comes from the Greek words chamai, which means on the earth, and leon, which means lion. So, the word means earth lion.
  2. A chameleon can see up to 32 feet in front of them. This makes it even easier to spot crickets, snails, and other types of prey. They also have complete 360-degree vision around their body! This special adaptation allows them to hunt prey and spot predators more effectively.
  3. Though chameleons have excellent eyesight, they can’t hear very well. Like snakes, they can hear sounds at certain frequencies but depend on their eyesight to catch insects.

Scientific Name

chameleon

The word chameleon means earth lion!

©Agus_Gatam/Shutterstock.com

The scientific name for a chameleon is Chamaeleo, which is derived from the Greek word “chamai” meaning on the ground and “leōn” meaning lion. This genus of lizards contains over 160 species that are native to Africa, Madagascar, Southern Europe, and Asia. They are known for their ability to change colors with their environment, allowing them to blend in perfectly with trees or rocks. Furthermore, they can also move each eye independently of one another to have a larger field of vision.

Appearance

How Big Do Chameleons Get Poster Image

Chameleons can have tongues up to 24 inches long!

©Jason Mintzer/Shutterstock.com



A chameleon is an incredible animal with a unique ability to change its colors and blend into its environment. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors depending on the species. Generally speaking, most chameleons have flattened bodies and long tails with five digits on each foot that are adapted for gripping branches or other surfaces. Their eyes can move independently of one another which helps them scan their surroundings more efficiently. Chameleons also possess a protruding tongue which they use to capture prey such as insects or small lizards. On average, they range in size from 2 inches up to 24 inches in length! Depending on the species, they usually feature bright hues of green and yellow with various patterns of spots throughout their body making them quite eye-catching reptiles!

Habitat

Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) in Wroclaw Zoo

Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) in Wroclaw Zoo

©Kinemator / Creative Commons – Original

Chameleons are animals that are found throughout the jungle and desert alike, in Africa, Asia, and parts of Southern Europe, and chameleons have also been introduced to parts of North America. Most of these lizards live in trees or in bushes. Only a few species of chameleon live on the ground under piles of leaves.

Predators

chameleon

Chameleons use their beautiful colors as a defense mechanism.

©OMP.stock/Shutterstock.com

There are many animals that eat these lizards. In fact, the smaller a chameleon is, the more likely it is to be eaten by a larger animal. Some of the predators include snakes, birds, and sometimes monkeys. Though they can blend in with their environment, they are near the bottom of the food chain. This means there are many animals above them on the food chain that can eat them.

Defense Against Predators

A chameleon’s ability to change color to match its environment is its way of protecting itself when a predator is nearby. If this lizard is on a branch, its skin can turn a color that is very close to the color of the branch. Many predators may pass by without ever seeing the chameleon sitting quietly on the tree branch.

Evolution

Oustalets Chameleon Ambalavao, Madagascar

Oustalets Chameleon, Ambalavao, Madagascar

©Bernard Gagnon / Creative Commons – Original

The chameleon is a very unique species of lizard, known for its ability to change color in order to adapt to their environment. It has been around for millions of years and is believed to have descended from the iguanid family. Chameleons are found throughout Africa, Madagascar, parts of southern Europe and Asia, as well as some islands in the Indian Ocean.

The evolution of the chameleon has also enabled it to develop several interesting characteristics that make it uniquely suited to its habitat. They have specialized eyes with 360-degree vision which allows them to see predators from any direction, long tongues so they can catch prey quickly, prehensile tails which help them climb trees more easily, and claws that enable them to grip branches firmly. Additionally, their skin pigmentation allows them to blend into their surroundings almost instantly when threatened by a predator or other animals.

Overall, the incredible evolutionary process behind the chameleon’s remarkable adaptation capabilities is truly amazing!

Behavior

What Do Veiled Chameleons Eat - Veiled Chameleon Eating
When threatened, Chameleons turn sideways to appear larger.

Chameleons are known for their ability to change color, but they also possess many other interesting behaviors. Chameleons are known to be solitary creatures, spending most of their time alone or in pairs. They can often be seen basking in the sun on branches or leaves, and when disturbed they will normally take cover among the foliage. Their long tongues help them catch prey such as insects and small reptiles; they have excellent vision which helps them spot potential food sources from a distance. When threatened by predators, chameleons may puff themselves up to appear larger than normal and give off a hissing sound as a warning sign. In addition to this defensive behavior, some species of chameleon may even fight each other using their tails!

Chameleons are animals that communicate with one another by using their body language. For instance, a chameleon trying to protect its territory from an intruder is likely to turn sideways. This makes the lizard look bigger and more threatening. A chameleon that feels threatened may open its mouth to try to scare another one away.

Reproduction

baby chameleon hatching

Some chameleons lay eggs, while others have live babies.

©Nick Henn/Shutterstock.com

Most species of these lizards lay eggs, while a few have live babies. The female digs a hole in the ground and lays her eggs inside it to keep them warm. Usually, they lay around 20 eggs, but it can be more or fewer depending on the species. It can take four months to a year for the eggs to hatch. Jackson’s chameleon is one example of a species that have live babies. This lizard can have from 8 to 30 live babies after being pregnant for about six months.

Chameleons, like most other reptiles, reproduce sexually. During courtship and mating rituals, male chameleons will display their bright colors to attract mates. Male chameleons also use head bobbing as a way of flirting and competing with rivals for the attention of females. If a male is successful in both displaying his colors and winning the battle using body language instead of physical contact, he may be chosen by the female for mating purposes.

The gestation period for chameleon eggs ranges anywhere from one month to several months depending on species and environmental factors such as temperature or humidity levels. After hatching from eggs laid in nests underground or in trees or bushes, baby chameleons are born without parental care; they must fend for themselves after birth.

The lifespan of a chameleon depends on its species but generally ranges from five to fifteen years when kept in captivity with optimal conditions such as proper diet and environment being met regularly. Wild-living chameleons tend to have shorter lifespans due to a lack of food sources, predators, disease exposure, etc., which can drastically reduce their life expectancy if not addressed properly.

Diet

What Do Chameleons Eat
Chameleons eat many types of food, such as fruit, insects, and plants.

Chameleons eat a diet that’s mostly focused on insects. While chameleons are omnivores that will feed on vegetation such as dandelions and other vegetation, most of their prey is insects such as grasshoppers, crickets, and dragonflies.

For a full list of chameleon diets, give our ‘What Do Chameleons Eat? 16 Foods in their Diet‘ page a read!

Conservation Status

What Do Veiled Chameleons Eat - Veiled Chameleon Eating

Some chameleon species are endangered due to habitat loss.

©Lauren Suryanata/Shutterstock.com

Chameleons are fascinating creatures that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Unfortunately, their numbers have been steadily declining due to a number of factors, including habitat destruction and hunting for the pet trade. As a result, several species of chameleon have been listed as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. For example, Parson’s Chameleon is classified as Endangered due to its restricted range and continued decline in population size from ongoing habitat loss, poaching for pets, and over-collection by scientists. Another species at risk is the Panther Chameleon which has seen significant declines in Madagascar due to deforestation activities such as burning woodlands for agriculture. Conservation efforts must focus on protecting suitable habitats so these amazing animals can continue to thrive around the world.

120 Types of Chameleons

120 Species of Chameleons
African Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo africanus Laurenti
Amber Chameleon – Species: Calumma amber
Antsingy Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia perarmata
Arabian Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo arabicus Matschie
Bearded Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rieppeleon brevicaudatus
Beraducci’s Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon beraduccii
Bizarre-Nosed Chameleon – Species: Calumma hafahafa
Black-headed Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion melanocephalum
Blunt-Nosed Chameleon – Species: Calumma tsycorne
Bocage’s Chameleon – Subspecies: Chamaeleo dilepis quilensis
Boulenger’s Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon boulengeri
Brown Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia superciliaris
Cameroon Sailfin Chameleon – Species: Trioceros montium
Cameroon Stumptail Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon spectrum
Cape Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion pumilum
Carpenter’s Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia carpenteri
Carpet Chameleon – Species: Furcifer lateralis
Carpet Chameleon – Species: Furcifer major
Chameleon Dragon – Species: Chelosania brunnea
Chameleon Forest Dragon – Species: Gonocephalus chamaeleontinus
Chapmans’ Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon chapmanorum
Circular-scaled Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia gyrolepis
Coarse Chameleon – Species: Trioceros rudis
Cone-headed Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo calyptratus
Crested Chameleon – Species: Trioceros cristatus
Cryptic Chameleon – Species: Calumma crypticum
Dhlinza Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion caeruleogula
Domergue’s Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia thieli
Double-scaled Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo anchietae
Drakensberg Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion dracomontanum
Eiongate Leaf Chameleon – Species: Palleon nasus
Eisentraut’s Chameleon – Subspecies: Trioceros quadricornis eisentrauti
Eshowe Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion caeruleogula
Fito Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia lambertoni
Flap-neck Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo dilepis
Flapneck Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo dilepis
Four-horned Chameleon – Species: Trioceros quadricornis
Graceful Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo gracilis
Gray Chameleon – Species: Trioceros chapini
Green Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon viridis
High-casqued Chameleon – Species: Trioceros hoehnelii
Iaraka River Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia vadoni
Ilolo Chameleon – Species: Trioceros goetzei
Indian Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo zeylanicus
Ituri Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia adolfifriderici
Jackson’s Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo jacksonii
Jackson’s Chameleon – Species: Trioceros jacksonii
Johnston’s Chameleon – Species: Trioceros johnstoni
Karoo Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion karrooicum
Kentani Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion kentanicum
Kenya Stumptail Chameleon – Species: Rieppeleon kerstenii
Knysna Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion damaranum
Labord’s Chameleon – Species: Furcifer labordi
Lesser Chameleon – Species: Furcifer minor
Magombera Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia magomberae
Malawi Stumptail Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon platyceps
Marojejy Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia griveaudi
Marojejy Peak Chameleon – Species: Calumma jejy
Marshall’s Stumptail Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon marshalli
Matschie’s Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia tenuis
Meller’s Chameleon – Species: Trioceros melleri
Minute Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia minima
Montane Side-striped Chameleon – Species: Trioceros ellioti
Mount Chiperone Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon nebulauctor
Mount d’Ambre Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia tuberculata
Mount Inago Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon bruessoworum
Mount Kulal Chameleon – Species: Trioceros narraioca
Mount Lefo Chameleon – Species: Trioceros wiedersheimi
Mount Mabu Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon maspictus
Mount Mulanje Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon platyceps
Mount Namuli Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon tilburyi
Mount-Nyiro Bearded Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia asheorum
Moyer’s Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon moyeri
Mt Kenya Hornless Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia excubitor
Mt Kenya Side-striped Chameleon – Species: Trioceros schubotzi
Mt Nyiru Chameleon – Species: Trioceros ntunte
Namaqua Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo namaquensis
Natal Midlands Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion thamnobates
Ngome Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion ngomeense
Ngosi Volcano Chameleon – Species: Trioceros fuelleborni
Nguru Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon acuminatus
Northem Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia ebenaui
Owen’s Chameleon – Species: Trioceros oweni
Parson’s Chameleon – Species: Calumma parsonii
Peltiers’ Chameleon – Species: Calumma peltierorum
Permet Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia therezieni
Perret’s Chameleon – Species: Trioceros perreti
Pfeffer’s Chameleon – Species: Trioceros pfefferi
Plated Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia stumpffi
Qudeni Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion nemorale
Rednose Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia oxyrhina
Robertson’s Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion gutturale
Rosette-nosed Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon spinosus
Ruppell’s Desert Chameleon – Species: Trioceros affinis
Ruwenzori Side-striped Chameleon – Species: Trioceros rudis
Senegal Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo senegalensis
Setaro’s Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion setaroi
Smith’s Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion taeniabronchum
Smooth Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo laevigatus
Socotra Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo monachus
South African Stumptail Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon nchisiensis
Southern Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion ventrale
Spiny Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia decaryi
Spiny-flanked Chameleon – Species: Trioceros laterispinis
Strange-horned Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia xenorhina
Tanzania Mountain Chameleon – Species: Trioceros tempeli
Tilbury’s Chameleon – Species: Trioceros marsabitensis
Toothed Leaf Chameleon – Species: Brookesia dentata
Transkei Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion caffer
Transvaal Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion transvaalense
Two-lined Chameleon – Species: Trioceros bitaeniatus
Ukinga Hornless Chameleon – Species: Trioceros incornutus
Uluguru Pygmy Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon uluguruensis
Usambara Soft-horned Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia tenuis
Usambara Stumptail Chameleon – Species: Rhampholeon temporalis
Uthmöller’s Chameleon – Species: Kinyongia uthmoelleri
Veiled Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo calyptratus
Wavy Chameleon – Species: Trioceros deremensis
Wemer’s Chameleon – Species: Trioceros werneri
Yemen Chameleon – Species: Chamaeleo calyptratus
Zululand Dwarf Chameleon – Species: Bradypodion nemorale

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About the Author

Heather Hall is a writer at A-Z Animals, where her primary focus is on plants and animals. Heather has been writing and editing since 2012 and holds a Bachelor of Science in Horticulture. As a resident of the Pacific Northwest, Heather enjoys hiking, gardening, and trail running through the mountains with her dogs.

Chameleon FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What are the Differences Between Iguanas and Chameleons?

Chameleons and iguanas have several key differences. First, they come from different areas of the world. Iguanas are from the Americas while chameleons are from Africa and Asia. Second, they have key anatomical differences like their tails and eyes. Chameleon eyes protrude and can view different directions while iguana eyes are more typical of reptiles.

What Do Chameleons Look Like?

Chameleons have five toes on each of their four feet. These toes help them to climb trees so they can sit in the highest branches. A chameleon’s five toes work kind of like a human’s thumb and fingers. Chameleons also have a tail that can wrap around a tree branch helping them to climb without falling. This reptile has the ability to change the color of its scaly skin. Some chameleons can display bright reds and yellows while others can turn green, black, brown or gray. A chameleon’s color can change with its emotions. It can turn one color when it’s angry and another when its afraid. A chameleon’s range of colors depends a lot on its species. This reptile has a long tongue with a sticky surface used for catching its food. Also, it has eyes that can move in separate directions. This allows a chameleon to see all around it.

What Does a Chameleon Eat?

The chameleon is generally an omnivorous animal, although some chameleon species are known to have a more carnivorous diet, and other chameleon species prefer to be vegetarians. A chameleon will generally eat anything though including berries, leaves, fruits, insects, worms, snails and some of the larger chameleon species will also hunt small reptiles. A chameleon that eats insects uses its long, sticky tongue to grab the locusts, grasshoppers, snails and crickets they see. Since many chameleons move very slowly, their long tongue can get them something to eat without needing to chase it. Once the insect goes into a chameleon’s mouth, it is crushed by the reptile’s powerful jaws. Larger varieties of chameleons have been known to eat small birds.

Does a Chameleon Drink A Lot of Water?

A chameleon doesn’t drink a large amount of water but does need constant access to it. A chameleon living in a forest drinks drips of water off the leaves of trees after a rainstorm. Most chameleons look for dripping water instead of looking for a pool on the forest floor.

How Big Are Chameleons?

The size of a chameleon depends on its species. A Malagasy giant chameleon measures about 27 inches while the Leaf chameleon is only a half inch long. Both of these chameleons live in Madagascar. While some chameleon species weigh less than a pound, others can weigh two to four pounds. The Parson’s chameleon is about the size of a house cat!

How Long Do Chameleons Live?

In the wild, chameleons can live for about four to eight years. Chameleons that are cared for in a zoo can live up to ten years.

Do Chameleons Make Any Sounds?

Chameleons do make sound. Many species make a hissing sound if they are angry or feel threatened by something in their environment.

Do Chameleons Live in Groups?

Chameleons do not live in groups. They prefer to sit alone in the trees and in bushes. Chameleons do get together in order to mate, but otherwise they are known as solitary animals.

Do Chameleons Make Good Pets?

Although many types of chameleons are sold in pet shops, they don’t make the best pets. These reptiles require a certain environment to enjoy a healthy life. It’s hard to create an environment like that in an aquarium. Plus, they need a special diet to remain healthy.

Do Chameleons Shed Their Skin?

Chameleons shed their skin like snakes and other reptiles. But, while a snake sheds its skin in one long piece, a chameleon sheds its skin in small sections. A chameleon may shed its skin once a month or once every few months, depending on its species. Along with shedding its skin naturally, a chameleon may shed because it is feeling stressed or it is sick.

What Kingdom do Chameleons belong to?

Chameleons belong to the Kingdom Animalia.

What phylum do Chameleons belong to?

Chameleons belong to the phylum Chordata.

What class do Chameleons belong to?

Chameleons belong to the class Reptilia.

What family do Chameleons belong to?

Chameleons belong to the family Chamaeleonidae.

What order do Chameleons belong to?

Chameleons belong to the order Squamata.

What type of covering do Chameleons have?

Chameleons are covered in Scales.

In what type of habitat do Chameleons live?

Chameleons live in tropical forests and deserts.

What are some distinguishing features of Chameleons?

Chameleons have exceptional vision and the ability to change their skin color.

What are some predators of Chameleons?

Predators of Chameleons include snakes, birds, and mammals.

What is the average clutch size of a Chameleon?

Chameleons typically lay 20 eggs.

What is an interesting fact about Chameleons?

There are more than 160 different species of Chameleon!

What is the scientific name for the Chameleon?

The scientific name for the Chameleon is Chamaeleonidae.

How fast is a Chameleon?

A Chameleon can travel at speeds of up to 21 miles per hour.

What is the difference between a bearded dragon and a chameleon?

The greatest differences between a bearded dragon and chameleon are their size, tails, and eyes. Bearded dragons are smaller than chameleons. Although they share a similar body length, most of a bearded dragon’s body length comes from their somewhat thin tails. Chameleons also weigh more than bearded dragons, but they can be incredibly small, too.

What's the difference between chameleons and lizards?

The greatest differences between a chameleon and a lizard are their tails, eyes, and tongues. Chameleons are known for their unique prehensile tails, and they are one of the few reptiles that possess them.

How to say Chameleon in ...
Bulgarian
Хамелеони
Czech
Chameleonovití
Danish
Kamæleon
German
Chamäleons
English
Chameleon
Esperanto
Ĥameleono
Spanish
Chamaeleonidae
Finnish
Kameleontit
French
Chamaeleonidae
Hebrew
זיקיות
Croatian
Kameleoni
Hungarian
Kaméleonfélék
Italian
Chamaeleonidae
Japanese
カメレオン科
Dutch
Kameleons
English
Kameleoner
Polish
Kameleonowate
Portuguese
Camaleão
Swedish
Kameleonter
Turkish
Bukalemun
Chinese
變色龍

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.

Sources

  1. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2011) Animal, The Definitive Visual Guide To The World's Wildlife / Accessed December 16, 2009
  2. Tom Jackson, Lorenz Books (2007) The World Encyclopedia Of Animals / Accessed December 16, 2009
  3. David Burnie, Kingfisher (2011) The Kingfisher Animal Encyclopedia / Accessed December 16, 2009
  4. Richard Mackay, University of California Press (2009) The Atlas Of Endangered Species / Accessed December 16, 2009
  5. David Burnie, Dorling Kindersley (2008) Illustrated Encyclopedia Of Animals / Accessed December 16, 2009
  6. Dorling Kindersley (2006) Dorling Kindersley Encyclopedia Of Animals / Accessed December 16, 2009