The Chameleon belongs to the family of vertebrate reptiles belonging to the scaly sauropods. It is neither an amphibian nor a mammal. Its scientific name is Chamaeleonidae. More than 161 species are known, and in Africa, its place of origin, there are more than 85 different species. (Specifically in the areas of South Africa and Madagascar).
These small and graceful reptiles can go from dwarf sizes (2,9 centimeters) like the chameleon of Brookesia Micra, which does not grow, to giant sizes for its species, like the Calumna Parsonii, which when it is adult reaches 80 centimeters, the biggest of its species.
Chameleons are famous for their ability to change the color of their skin. It changes color to camouflage itself to avoid predators, and also according to their moods.
This species of lizards have, if you look at it from the front, ahead in the shape of a vee, with gigantic eyes that allow it to see 360º, thanks to a magnificent membranous turret that also allows it to move its eyes in different directions. Also, its bulging eyes have glands and eyelids that constantly lubricate the surface of its cornea. As for its tail, it is prehensile and is almost always collected. The only function of this is to become entangled in the branches.
Some chameleons, in addition to the above, have horns on their forehead (this is the case of Fischer’s chameleon or Jackson’s chameleon), as if it were a rhinoceros.
Many people think that the chameleon is deaf, but that is incorrect, as they have an inner ear but no ears. They don’t have an eardrum, but if an internal cavity is included in the fluid-filled bone, a whole labyrinth inside the bone cavity.
One of the most characteristic parts of the chameleon is found in its mouth. Due to its extreme slowness, to hunt it sneaks close to its prey, opens its mouth by sticking out its tongue, and then throws it out. It can reach up to twice its size and a speed of 95 kilometers per hour. Thanks to the sticky tip, up to 100 times more than human saliva, it traps its prey. Its prey is usually insects, as it is an insectivorous saurian, a carnivorous reptile.
They have four legs, each ending in two toes. In turn, these toes have 3 and 2 claws. These strong claws allow the chameleon to have the traction and grip necessary to climb branches and trees, in addition to using them to grab and hold things.
Chameleons stand out for being animals with many colors (they are very colorful reptiles). These striking colors are not only acquired by chameleons to change color as camouflage. Some already have impressive colors from birth. Therefore, we can find multiple colors.
We can find blue, black, yellow, orange, or even red chameleons.
Types and breeds of chameleons
Currently, 161 species of chameleons are known, which can be grouped into 10 genera, within 2 subfamilies.
Subfamily Chamaeleoniae. It includes the chameleons of normal size:
- Bradypodion: 25 species in Southeast Africa.
- Calumma: 31 species in Madagascar.
- Chamaeleo: 14 species in Europe, Africa, and Asia.
- Furcifer: 22 species in Madagascar and Comoros.
- Kinyongia: 18 species in sub-Saharan Africa.
- Nadzikambia: 2 species in Mozambique and Malawi.
- Archaic: 1 species in Seychelles.
Subfamily Brookesiinae. Covers the genus of dwarf chameleons:
- Brookesia: 30 species in Madagascar.
- Rhampholeon: 18 species in East Africa.
- Rieppeleon: 3 species in East Africa.
What ecosystem and where do chameleons live?
Although chameleons are increasingly common in homes, this does not mean that our homes are their common habitats.
Most chameleons live in Africa and Madagascar (it is the origin of about 50% of all chameleons in the world) although some species are also found in parts of Sri Lanka, India, and Asia Minor. In Europe, for example, there is only one species of chameleon, the common chameleon, or also known in Spain as the Iberian chameleon.
These animals usually live in very different places. This is thanks to the great capacity they have to stabilize in any ecosystem, enduring extreme temperatures, where few animals could survive. Their habitat is found in mountains, jungles, jungles, jungles, savannas, deserts, humid plains, and steppes.
However, and unfortunately, this is one of the reptiles that is losing the most lives and homes due to the indiscriminate felling of trees in the dense tropical forests (where the vast majority of chameleons inhabit) and their capture by humans. This destruction of forests not only affects the chameleon, but it also causes other species of reptiles to suffer, die, or be captured, such as the Madagascar gecko.
How many years can a chameleon live?
The life expectancy of a chameleon varies depending on whether it is male or female. For male chameleons, this is 7 and 8 years. For females, the hope is between 3 and 5 years. The largest species can double this average age of life, reaching up to 15 years if they find the optimal conditions and the necessary care.
The females, as we have already mentioned, live fewer years. This is because their body is in a constant process of creating eggs, which entails great metabolic wear. In some cases, if they do not mate with the male, the eggs may accumulate inside, causing premature death.
This average life expectancy in both females and males may vary, depending on whether we give our chameleon better conditions, such as a spacious terrarium or higher quality and more varied food. To provide these optimal conditions, we will have to give live prey to our chameleon, insects such as crickets and cockroaches. So if you are going to buy one of these reptiles, it will be essential to have an assortment of live food for the chameleons. As for their hydration, we must know that they do not drink from water dispensers, but the dew of the leaves. Therefore, you should spray your terrarium 2 to 3 times a day with a terrarium spray or air humidifier. In this way, you will be able to drink from the humidity of the drops left on the leaves and crystals of the terrarium.
If we have all these conditions according to what our chameleon needs, he will have a much longer life expectancy.
What do chameleons eat?
As for what the chameleon eats, we must know that it is an arboricultural species. It looks for food in the trees, although some species come down to the ground to find it.
Its food is essentially carnivorous, based on insects. If the chameleon is in the wild, its food is based on insects of the Diptera class, such as flies, mosquitoes, and horseflies.
On the other hand, if it is a domestic chameleon, we must try to give it a rich and varied diet as they could find in freedom, providing them with all the vitamins they need. It is therefore advisable to give them insects with a high nutritional value, such as crickets, flour worms, grasshoppers, fruit flies, cockroaches, slugs, honey worms, among others.
We must also provide them with the prey of the right size because if they are too big they could be rejected. To facilitate the digestion of food, try to feed them when they are most active and have reached optimal temperature, about the middle of the morning.
Even though they are carnivores, our chameleon may admit certain lettuce leaves depending on the species of chameleon in question, being able to be omnivorous. There is also the option of buying packaged dry insects, which include the necessary nutrients.
We recommend the use of nutritional supplements, as many times our chameleon can be low in calcium and vitamin D. Also indicate that before adding any of these nutritional supplements we must ensure that this provides necessary nutrients that are not included in the diet that leads to an adequate amount.
These supplements should be given when they are growing up, in the first 6 months of life, when they are breeding females, or when they are sick. After 6 months, it is no longer necessary to give them daily supplements, 3 or 4 times a week would be enough.
What do the chameleon colors mean? Identifying different moods.
As mentioned earlier, the chameleon can live in very different areas. As a result of this, we can see the chameleon in different shades, which will vary depending on the habitat in which we find it or according to its emotions.
To see a chameleon changing color is something spectacular. This ability to change colors is obtained by the chameleon thanks to the chromatophores. These are a type of cells distributed in several layers that have the ability to contract, extend, add and disperse, causing different color variations.
These chameleon chromatophores are red, black, and yellow in color, and may expand and contract voluntarily. Therefore, they modify their color at will. In this way, they can cover a large part of the colors of the visible spectrum. Colors such as orange, blue, green, purple, black, and so on.
The color change of the chameleons, adjustable and reversible, has various functions:
- Camouflage: the most obvious function. Camouflage helps them not to be detected by their prey, although the main reason is to go unnoticed by their predators.
Thermoregulation: Like all reptiles, they depend on external sources of heat to increase their temperature. In this way, they can change from dark to lighter colors to regulate their body temperature to a certain extent.
- Communication: this, although not created, is the most important function of color change. Chameleons use different colors, as if they were bookstores, to transmit different emotions and sensations to their peers. If the chameleon has a color similar to that of the environment in which it is found, this color usually indicates a good state of health. While if they are sick or have a physical problem, they tend to show paler and duller combinations. Females, for example, tend to present more striking colors when in heat, and darker colors after being fertilized. For its part, during mating the male also shows more striking colors, to attract the attention of the female and scare away the other males.
What care should we give to our chameleon?
For the chameleon to live as long as possible, the terrarium must have the ideal conditions of the species we have chosen. The most important are: temperature, air, light, and humidity. You must check daily that these are the most appropriate and correct any problems that may arise immediately.
As for the terrarium, you will have to make sure that your chameleon cage has enough space to install branches with abundant foliage through which they can climb and a burrow where they can hide. A small chameleon will need a cage of at least 50x50x90 centimeters.
Like other lizards, chameleons need heat, so you’ll need to install special reptile tubes inside the enclosure or an infrared lamp. This will provide the heat you need for optimum body temperature. This, in turn, can be connected to a timer, which regulates the temperature during the hours your chameleon needs.
Our chameleon could die right away if the air quality and humidity are not correct. The terrarium must be well ventilated and have at least one side or a roof with mosquito netting. If this is not possible, you can also attach a small fan, in a place inaccessible to the chameleon, and connect it several times a day. In this way, the air will be renewed and no fungus will appear.
For our chameleon to enjoy its habitat to the maximum, we must adapt it to the maximum. This can be achieved by placing a drinker (to quench thirst) and different types of branches and structures, which can be moved and used to hide.
As for humidity, in the terrarium, we must place a humidifier that ensures continuous humidity of at least 80%.
Finally, the cage should be placed in a quiet place, as chameleons are easily stressed.
How does a chameleon reproduce?
Chameleons’ rutting season occurs during the summer, from June to September, when they have reached sexual maturity (at 6-8 months of age). Chameleons are mostly oviparous, although there are some cases of oviparous, having aspects in common with both oviparous and viviparous.
Once the male has caught the female’s attention, copulation begins. The male immobilizes the female and fertilizes the eggs found inside the female. After 3 to 6 weeks, the eggs are laid by the pregnant female in a hole they dig in the ground.
The number of eggs varies according to the species. For example, the Brookesia lays 2 to 4 eggs, and the Chameleon of Yemen 30 to 60 eggs on average. Once the eggs are laid, after 4 or 12 months of gestation they hatch after spawning. Newly hatched, fully developed hatchlings are born within the egg membrane, from which they are released to begin their independent life.
There are several chameleons within the species, such as the Jackson chameleon or the hoofed chameleon, which are ovoviviparous. Once fertilized, eggs develop inside the mother until the embryo is fully developed as if it were viviparous. Hatching may occur immediately before birth or just after laying, thus giving birth to the baby chameleon.
How to identify a sick chameleon? The health of our chameleon
These animals, like any other, can develop certain diseases that require veterinary attention. It’s not the most common, but it can happen, so just in case, find a veterinarian who specializes in exotic animals or reptiles as close to your home as possible.
We know that a chameleon suffers some kind of problem when we begin to see pale colors, changes in behavior, and strange behaviors. Many diseases can appear with symptoms imperceptible at first sight, so stay alert to your pet.
Here are the illnesses our chameleons may suffer:
Areas of black skin, areas with dry scales. This occurs when the chameleon comes into contact with heat sources due to poor terrarium planning.
- Bites or blows
Areas of the skin turn black, in the case of bites, there may be bleeding wounds. As a result of sharp edges, bites between congeners and/or bumps from falls.
Dry, inelastic skin. Sunken eyes. This occurs as a result of low levels of drinking water or too low a level of humidity.
Lack of appetite and thinness. It is due to poor captive conditions, inappropriate diet, parasites, stress, poor terrarium, inadequate lighting, incorrect temperature, and habitat that do not resemble that of its place of origin.
Difficulties in getting up on their legs. They are the result of a lack of vitamins and/or have parasites.
Dark colors, apathy. As a consequence of incorrect lighting or sharing terrariums with fellow human beings.
- Eye infections
His eye is closed and he rubs them very often. As a result of mites, it molts and low humidity.
Excessive salivation, diarrhea, vomiting, liquid, foul-smelling, or even bloody stools. It is the result of low temperature, too much stress, or an inadequate diet.
- Failure to propel the tongue
It occurs when the chameleon’s tongue has a short reach of the tongue, or the tongue falls out of the mouth and cannot pick it up normally. It is a consequence of calcium deficiency, vitamin A deficiency, dehydration, or heat stroke.
bloated abdomen, dehydration, and anorexia. It is a consequence of the difficulty in laying eggs. It may be because the habitat is not adequate, or that the female is too young or unfertilized.
Open mouth, hyperventilation, and hypersalivation. This occurs when temperatures are too high, or the chameleon is exposed to the sun without the possibility of taking shelter in the shade.
Can our chameleon live with other reptiles? Chameleon Behavior
Chameleons are characterized by being highly territorial reptiles. They do not accept the company of other fellows in their habitat, so you will have to have a terrarium for each chameleon you own.
Chameleons are reptiles that are easily stressed if they share a terrarium, so they can get sick or die as a result.
Also inform that these animals are not used to the presence of other species in their natural habitat, which can cause fights and confrontations.
How do you know if a chameleon is male or female?
It is essential that you know the sex of your chameleon, as this will indicate the types of care you should give your pet. When they are a few months old there are no major differences in their care, but as they grow, females consume a more complex diet and require more specific care than males. The main characteristics that you should pay attention to are the following:
- Check the hemipenes bulge: Male chameleons have a slight bulge at the bottom of the base of their tail. This bulge corresponds to their genitals, which will not develop until the chameleon is a few months old.
- Pay attention to color: In all chameleon species, the male has more vivid colors than the female, and even in some species, the male is the only one who develops those colors.
- Check their size: Chameleon males are larger than females. This difference can be discreet, measuring very little more, or striking, becoming up to twice as large.
Where can I buy a chameleon?
If you are thinking about buying a chameleon, make sure you know what you are getting into before you make the purchase. Here is a series of actions that you have to do when you buy your chameleon:
- The price of a chameleon can vary between 50 and 300 euros depending on the species.
- You must choose a pet shop or a respectable breeder. This will help you to ensure that your chameleon has been raised in healthy conditions before the sale.
- Buy a chameleon bred in captivity, as they generally have better health than those caught in the wild, which may have parasites. Besides, buying captured chameleons is illegal. Therefore, you must verify that it was bred in captivity and not captured in its wild state.
- Buy a young chameleon, as it will live much longer.
- Check that the chameleon you are going to buy is not sick. The chameleon should not have sunken eyes or muted colors, and the chameleon should have passed all routine medical check-ups.
- Have the cage ready before buying the chameleon. Remember that the minimum recommended cage size should be 90 x 90 x 120 centimeters. It should have its substrate, branches to climb and hide, vaporizer or humidifier, add foliage so you can drink from the leaves, and have the food prepared, in addition to having blankets and heat bulbs for it to warm up.