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What Are the Different Types of Chameleons?

Drue Tibbits
Drue Tibbits

There are more 160 species of chameleons. Only a few of these are kept as pets as many types of chameleons have demanding care requirements or are unable to adapt to captivity. No matter the species, all chameleons have eyes that move independently of each other and long tongues with sticky ends. These reptiles range in size from tiny specimens of 1.3 inches (3.3 cm) long to species that grow to 30 inches (76.2 cm) long. Chameleons comprise the family of Chamaeleonidae, which can be separated into six subfamilies.

The Chamaeleo subfamily contains more species of chameleons than the others. This group includes those that are often kept as pets, such as the common chameleon, or Chamaeleo chameleon; the four-horned chameleon, or Chamaeleo quadricornus; and the veiled chameleon, or Chamaeleo calyptractus. Others of this group include Millers giant chameleon, or Chamaeleo melleri, and the flap-neck chameleon, or Chamaeleo dilepsis. Most of this group average between 9 inches (22.9 cm) long to 24 inches (61 cm) long.

There are 160 species of chameleon, ranging in length from 1.3 inches to 30 inches.
There are 160 species of chameleon, ranging in length from 1.3 inches to 30 inches.

One of the subfamilies, Brookesia, is made up of smaller types of chameleons. The smallest of all chameleons, the leaf chameleon, or Brookesia minima, belongs to this group and grows to only 1.3 inches (3.3 cm) long. This chameleon has the engaging habit of playing dead if it is disturbed. The largest member of this subfamily is the armored chameleon, or Brookesia perarmata, which tops out at only 4 inches (10.2 cm) long. Several Brookesia chameleons are suitable as pets.

The veiled chameleon is often kept as a pet.
The veiled chameleon is often kept as a pet.

Most members of the Furcifer subfamily of chameleons are large. The largest of all chameleons is Oustalet’s chameleon, or Furcifer oustalet, which can grow to 30 inches (76.2 cm) long. This group also includes one of the most popular types of chameleons, the panther chameleon, or Furcifer pardalis. Panther chameleons come in beautiful color morphs, including blue, pink, and rainbow. These reptiles are also quite large, growing to 20 inches (50.8 cm) long.

Dwarf chameleons make up the entirety of the Bradypodian subfamily. Although these types of chameleons are named dwarf chameleons, most are larger than the tiny Brookesias. Members of this group include the Zululand dwarf chameleon, or Bradypodian nemorale, and the Karoo dwarf chameleon, or Bradypodian karroicum. Bradypodian chameleons average about 6 inches (15.2 cm) long and are rarely kept in captivity. Members of the remaining chameleon subfamilies, Rhampolean and Calumma, are not suitable as pets and, like Bradypodian chameleons, are seldom kept in captivity.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many different types of chameleons are there?

There are over 160 species of chameleons spread across the world, primarily in Africa, Madagascar, southern Europe, and Asia. Each species exhibits unique characteristics, such as variations in size, color-changing abilities, and habitats. Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot, hosting about half of the world's chameleon species.

What are the most common chameleon species kept as pets?

The Veiled Chameleon, Panther Chameleon, and Jackson's Chameleon are among the most popular species kept as pets. They are favored for their distinctive looks and color-changing abilities. The Veiled Chameleon, in particular, is known for its hardiness and relatively easier care requirements, making it a common choice for beginners.

Can all chameleons change color, and why do they do it?

While most chameleons have the ability to change color, the extent and purpose vary among species. Color change serves several functions: communication, temperature regulation, and camouflage. For example, chameleons may display brighter colors when courting or darker colors when stressed. The color change is facilitated by special cells in their skin called chromatophores.

What is the largest chameleon species, and where can it be found?

The Parson's Chameleon is the largest chameleon species, with some individuals reaching up to 27 inches in length. This impressive species is native to the rainforests of Madagascar. Due to their size and specific care requirements, Parson's Chameleons are less commonly kept as pets compared to smaller, more manageable species.

Are chameleons endangered, and what are the threats they face?

Many chameleon species are facing threats that put them at risk of endangerment. Habitat loss due to deforestation, climate change, and illegal wildlife trade are significant threats. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), several species are listed as endangered or critically endangered, highlighting the need for conservation efforts.

What unique adaptations do chameleons have besides color change?

Chameleons possess several remarkable adaptations. They have 360-degree vision due to their independently mobile eyes, allowing them to look in two different directions simultaneously. Their tongues can be twice the length of their bodies and are used to capture prey at high speeds. Additionally, their zygodactylous feet and prehensile tails aid in climbing and stability in their arboreal habitats.

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    • There are 160 species of chameleon, ranging in length from 1.3 inches to 30 inches.
      By: Snowshill
      There are 160 species of chameleon, ranging in length from 1.3 inches to 30 inches.
    • The veiled chameleon is often kept as a pet.
      By: Sebastian Duda
      The veiled chameleon is often kept as a pet.