Chamaeleo previously grouped more species and was more diverse than it is today. With more research and studies, old names were resurrected to the genus level. Chamaeleo split into three other genera to narrow down its own morphological traits. Fourteen extant species are now recognized in Chamaeleo with one extinct species. The species best known is Chamaeleo calyptratus, or the veiled chameleon. A few species also have subspecies within them. Chameleons are known for their variety of colors, long protrusible tongue, independently moving eyes, prehensile tail, and zygodactylous feet. Their diet consists of larvae, insects, and some plants. They are stalkers and live in diverse forest habitats. Most are arboreal with a couple species being mostly terrestrial. ("Chamaeleo Laurenti, 1768", 2021; Naish, 2016; Vitt and Caldwell, 2014)

Geographic Range

Most species live in sub-saharan Africa with few species ranging up into northern Africa into southern Europe and also southern Asia, specifically the Middle East, India and Sri Lanka. They inhabit the Ethiopian, Palearctic, and Oriental regions. They are often seen in captivity, most commonly the senegal and veiled chameleons. Habitats range from scrublands to forests up to 8,500 feet in elevation. ("Chamaeleo Laurenti, 1768", 2021)


Chameleons can be found in tropical rainforests, mountain rainforests, savannas, scrublands, and even crop plantations. Most species are arboreal and live high up in trees or low to the ground in shrubs. A few species can be found on the ground and are mostly terrestrial due to sparse trees or shrubs. Mountain rainforest habitats range up to about 8,500 feet. Tropical rainforests or crop plantations can be found at sea level around the Mediterranean Sea or the Indian Ocean. Savannas and terrestrial chameleons inhabit sub-saharan Africa. ("Chameleon", 2018; "Chameleons: Chamaeleonidae", 2022)

Systematic and Taxonomic History

Previously, Chamaeleo used to be broader and cover more species under its genus. With more studies, it was eventually decided that the genus was just too diverse so it had to be split into different genera. It was then split into Chamaeleo sensu stricto, Calumma, Furcifer, and Bradypodion. These genera, along with Trioceros, are now considered the closest related groups to Chamaeleo. Chamaeleo now only has 14 species within it. (Naish, 2016)

Physical Description

Chameleons are slow moving with independently moving eyes. They have a long, protrusible tongue and usually a prehensile tail. They have zygodactylous feet, which are fusions of two and three digits to form opposable fore and hind limbs. They also possess the ability to change skin coloration. The skin is usually composed of small, juxtaposed scales. Males are generally bigger and more colorful than females. There are, however, a few species where the female is larger than the male. Male size can range from 20cm-61cm in some species. Females can range from 20cm-35cm. Another distinction that some males have is spurs on their hind limbs. Juveniles are normally monochrome, while adults are more colorful. Like other reptiles, chameleons rely on their environment to regulate their temperature and keep them warm. ("Chamaeleo Laurenti, 1768", 2021)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • male larger
  • male more colorful


Via internal fertilization, multiple zygotes are formed within the female. The amniotic eggs gestate in the female for a few weeks before they are laid and buried in soil. After incubation, the eggs hatch and babies emerge as smaller versions of the adults. They grow until they are a mature adult from determinate growth. Unlike other reptiles, chameleons do not have temperature-dependent sex determination. (Vitt and Caldwell, 2014)

  • Development - Life Cycle
  • neotenic/paedomorphic


Chameleons communicate with their color variations, so females will change their coloring to show that they are ready to mate. Color changes happen for many different reasons so it is often hard to understand what they all mean. The female's color change during mating, however, is distinct and copulations are more frequent when these colors appear. Females will then choose the best looking, most vibrant, and most dominant male to mate with. They are not monogamous. Rather, males and females wander around to different trees to find mates. ("Chameleon", 2018; Cuadrado, 1998)

All species included in this genus are oviparous. Mating season occurs during the warmer months, usually July-September. They can also mate twice a year during wet and dry seasons. Around a month after internal fertilization occurs, females descend to the ground, dig a hole, and lay eggs. A clutch size can range from 10-70 eggs depending on the species. The rest of the incubation is done by the ground, which ranges from a few months to 10 months depending on the species. Juveniles take 5 months to over a year to reach maturity. ("Chameleon", 2018; "Chamaeleo Laurenti, 1768", 2021)

There is hardly any parental care provided to the young. The mother carries the eggs for about a month or two, lays them in the ground, then leaves. Babies hatch fully self-sufficient. They intrinsically know how to hunt for themselves. Males of some species may even eat babies that they find. ("Chameleon", 2018; "Chamaeleo Laurenti, 1768", 2021)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement


The average lifespan of Chamaeleo chameleons is about 3-8 years in the wild. Males typically live longer than females. In captivity, lifespans can be extended with proper care, but average to about 10 years. ("Chamaeleo Laurenti, 1768", 2021)


Males tend to be aggressive, territorial, and more solitary towards other males. They use their colorful displays to threaten other males. They may produce sounds like hissing when feeling threatened as well. Females can tolerate each other in closer proximity unless they are receptive or gravid. Chameleons are also slow-moving creatures, grasping foilage and branches with their zygodactylous feet and their prehensile tails, so hunting prey is easier with their long, projectile tongue. They stalk their prey then missile shoot their tongue to capture their food with impeccable accuracy. They are mostly insectivores, but some may eat small vertebrates as well. They are active during the day and sleep throughout the night. Sleeping makes them vulnerable, so they choose a spot where they are well hidden and blend in. ("Chameleon", 2018; "Chamaeleo Laurenti, 1768", 2021)

Communication and Perception

Chameleons most commonly communicate by changing their skin pigmentation to show their social status. They may also change their coloration to show red or orange when they are fearful or angry. When they are submissive, they may change their pigment to a more brown or grey color. Females also show a specific coloration when they are receptive or gravid. Bright colors are also used for aggression or higher social statuses. Dull colors are shown when timid and submissive. Eyesight is well developed with independently moving eyes. Depth perception is also very accurate as it aids in prey capture. ("Chameleon", 2018; "Chamaeleo Laurenti, 1768", 2021)

  • Communication Channels
  • visual

Food Habits

These chameleons are mostly insectivores, but will also eat leaves or sometimes small vertebrates. They mostly feed on insects and invertebrates like locusts, crickets, roaches, worms, slugs, snails, grasshoppers, and flies. Some have been known to eat plant matter and it is believed that they do so for water in the drier months. The larger chameleons are known to prey on small vertebrates like young birds, small rodents, and smaller lizards. They are limited by the width of their throat for how big their prey can be, so body size influences what they eat. Chameleons are very slow-moving, so they have a long tongue that they quickly shoot out with deadly accuracy to capture their prey. ("Chamaeleo Laurenti, 1768", 2021; "Chameleon Diet & Nutritional Information", 2021; "Chameleons: Chamaeleonidae", 2022)


Chameleons are relatively small, so they are often close to the bottom of the food chain in their ecosystems. They are mostly predated upon by snakes, birds, and sometimes monkeys. The color-changing ability of their skin is their most notable anti-predator adaptation. They can blend into their environment very well, i.e. a chameleon on a branch can change its skin to match the branch or match a leaf and predators can pass by them without having seen them. ("Chameleon", 2022a; "What Animals Eat Chameleons", 2022)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Chameleons play an important role in their ecosystems’ food chains. They act as pest control by eating insects. They also serve as prey for higher predators. (Palmer, 2017)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Some species in Chamaeleo are kept as pets. Some do very well in captivity and are bred easily. They are sought after for their colors and temperment. ("Chameleon", 2018)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

Because of the attraction to these species as pets, some have been introduced as invasive species. Some species are invasive in states like Florida, Hawaii, and California. They may have been released into the wild when their care needs became too much, and with these areas being hot and humid like their native habitat, they thrived. They do not impact the other species too much since they are insectivores, but they do fill a niche where they are not naturally found. ("Chameleon", 2018)

Conservation Status

Deforestation threatens chameleon populations. No species in g. Chamaeleo, however, are endangered. For the species that are kept as pets, their livelihood is excellent. Conservation efforts may include looking into trade issues, promoting research on their ecology and habitats, and taking measures to preserve their natural habitats. All species but one are on the IUCN Red List as least concern or data deficient. C. monachus is on the Red List as near threatened. ("Chameleon", 2018; "Red List", 2022; "Chameleon", 2022b)

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated


Emma Paul (author), Colorado State University, Audrey Bowman (editor), Colorado State University, Sydney Collins (editor), Colorado State University.



living in sub-Saharan Africa (south of 30 degrees north) and Madagascar.

World Map


living in the northern part of the Old World. In otherwords, Europe and Asia and northern Africa.

World Map


Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature


union of egg and spermatozoan


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

internal fertilization

fertilization takes place within the female's body


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


found in the oriental region of the world. In other words, India and southeast Asia.

World Map


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.


the kind of polygamy in which a female pairs with several males, each of which also pairs with several different females.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


lives alone


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


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