Chameleons range from tiny to huge, from brightly colored to bland, from cartoon adorable to dragon-like and downright scary. In spite of this plethora of characteristics, though, most come from somewhat similar habitats. The greatest portion of chameleons are tropical tree dwellers who adhere to trunks and branches using a prehensile tail and feet that have opposable thumbs. Other chameleon habitats include the forest floor and even desert environments.
One interesting fact about these lizards is that they are native to only the Eastern hemisphere. By far, more chameleon habitats are found on the East African island of Madagascar than any other place. While other varieties are found along Africa’s northern and eastern coasts, West Africa has no native chameleons. The southern portions of Europe and India, however, are home to a number of chameleon species, but those that are found in North or South America are descended from escaped pets. The green anole, which many people mistake for a small, bright-green to brown chameleon, is a lizard but not of the same family.
Most chameleons are fond of both warm sunshine and high humidity. They prefer the safety of trees and have evolved to blend with their surroundings. Tropical leaves and branches are also home to many kinds of insects. As chameleons have eyes that move independent of one another, they can spot insects that have roamed too close and gobble them up with their long, sticky tongues in an instant.
It is advantageous for them to be able to blend into their chameleon habitats in order to hide from insects, so tree-dwelling chameleons are generally bright green in color, some with spots, stripes, or blotches of yellow, red, or orange to blend in with tropical fruits and flowers. Those who are ground dwellers are drab in color, typically browns and darker greens. Chameleons do not change color to blend into their surroundings as is commonly believed, although they will change color due to temperature, if they feel they are in danger, or during mating.
Among chameleon habitats, the most unusual one is the southwestern African desert of Namib, where the namaqua chameleon finds its home. Surviving in this fiercely hot and dry environment means this lizard has had to adapt in every way. There is so little rainfall that the only available water source is the dew that collects on their bodies, which they drink.