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What Is a Panther Chameleon?

Angie Bates
Angie Bates

A panther chameleon is a type of lizard endemic to the lowland forests of Madagascar. Known for their brilliant and highly varied coloring, as well as their unique patterns of spots, stripes, and bars, panther chameleons are extremely popular in the exotic pet trade. The scientific name for these lizards is Furcifer pardalis.

Like most chameleons, the panther chameleon has a casque, or bony raised portion, near the back of its head. It also exhibits the fused digits on its feet common to these types of lizards. A panther chameleon maybe up to 22 inches (56 cm) in length, though the female is usually several inches smaller than the male.

Panther chameleons are endemic to the lowland forests of Madagascar.
Panther chameleons are endemic to the lowland forests of Madagascar.

Arboreal, panther chameleons spend the majority of their time in trees. Their eyes, which can move independently of each other and offer an extraordinary range of vision, are especially suited for finding the reptile's chosen food source, primarily insects. Once dinner is spotted, the lizard whips out its extensile tongue, which may be longer than the lizard itself, and captures the insect on the end through a combination of a vacuum created by the tongue's muscles and a sticky outer coating.

The coloration and patterning of a panther chameleon is primarily dependent on the region in which that lizard lives. Variations in coloring from reds, pinks, and oranges to blues and greens, and patterning combinations of stripes, spots, and vertical bars are common. Males are brightly colored year round, becoming more vibrant during mating. Females are relatively drab in comparison, consisting of basic browns and grays, though they too exhibit a color change during mating season.

Mating occurs in spring and summer, roughly October through March in Madagascar. The female's coloring during this time slowly becomes brighter, often changing from orange into pink, and then finally to a black with vertical bars of the previous color. Meanwhile, the male is establishing and defending a territory until he comes into contact with a properly colored mate at which time he can begin a courtship. Once courtship and mating are complete, the female will lay 16–24 eggs after a few weeks gestation.

Although the panther chameleon only lives about two years in the wild, it can live over five in captivity. Pet chameleons should be provided with leaf litter and branches for climbing, and well as a more open area for basking. They require UV lighting, and 60–100 percent humidity, as well as regular misting. Unlike some lizards, chameleons often get highly stressed when handled and so should not be handled regularly.

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    • Panther chameleons are endemic to the lowland forests of Madagascar.
      By: Ruslan Olinchuk
      Panther chameleons are endemic to the lowland forests of Madagascar.