Furcifer pardalisEnglish common name not available

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Geographic Range

Furcifer pardalis, also known as panther chameleons, are native to the island of Madagascar. They are distributed throughout the island but are locally abundant on the central-eastern, north-eastern, northern and north-western coasts. Furcifer pardalis have also been introduced to areas such as La Réunion and Mauritius. ("Furcifer pardalis CUVIER 1829", 2010; Andreone, et al., 2005; Carpenter, et al., 2004; Raxworthy, et al., 2003; Tolley and Burger, 2007)

Habitat

Furcifer pardalis mainly inhabits lowland, dry deciduous forests close to thin belts of trees bordering rivers and roads. This particular species seems to prefer open habitats that are not overly shaded. Scientists believe this is due to the need to colonize open spaces where they may bask and males may use visual signals directed to females (during courtship) or for males to establish territories. Male panther chameleons also have a higher range of elevation than females, most likely for territorial reasons. (Andreone, et al., 2005; Randrianantoandro, et al., 2010; Raxworthy, et al., 2003; Schuurman, et al., 2008)

  • Range elevation
    1.0 to 7.02 m
    3.28 to 23.03 ft
  • Average elevation
    1.8 m
    5.91 ft

Physical Description

The most fascinating feature of Furcifer pardalis is their extraordinarily vibrant coloration. Adult chameleons are sexually dimorphic and males can be recognized by their larger size, swollen basis of the tail indicating the presence of the hemipenes, and have a wide range of coloration and patterns. Females are identified as being more uniformly pale green or pink, smaller in size, with a thinner tail base, and sometimes with eggs detectable through the body walls. Adults can reach a length of 23 cm. It is much more difficult to distinguish the sex of juvenile chameleons less than 6 months of age because of their smaller size, dull coloration, and lack of hemipenial bulge in males. ("Furcifer pardalis CUVIER 1829", 2010; Andreone, et al., 2005; Tolley and Burger, 2007)

Coloration and patterning of Furcifer pardalis varies significantly depending on their origin of location. Typically, panther chameleons from the Madagascan Island Nosy Be are blue-green, emerald-green or have turquoise bodies. Males from the northwest coast are usually bright pink, with a yellowish white stripe along the sides; this is commonly referred to as "the pink panthers". Males can also be orange, red and dark green with a vast variation in spots, stripes, and/or bands around the head and eyes. (Ferguson, et al., 2004)

Panther chameleons lack a vomeronasal organ, an auxiliary olfactory sense organ that is found in many animals. They also do not have an outer or a middle ear, which suggests that chameleons might be deaf. Chameleons do have specialized feet with a tong-like appearance called zygodactyl. On each foot the five toes are fused into a group of two digits and a group of three digits. On the front feet the bundle of three toes is on the inside of the foot, and the bundle of two toes is on the outside. This is reversed on the rear foot, giving them a secure and strong grasp and allowing them to maneuver horizontally or vertically on a wide variety of vegetation or structures. These specialized feet allow chameleons to hold on tightly to narrow branches. Sharp claws on each toe help them climb and grip surfaces that they cannot grasp tightly, such as tree trunks. (Kalisch, et al., 2007; Schuurman, et al., 2008)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male larger
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range length
    23 (high) cm
    9.06 (high) in

Development

Female Furcifer pardalis gestate fertilized eggs for 2 to 3 weeks. It typically takes the young anywhere from 6 months to a year to hatch from their eggs. From that point the young take another 6 months until they are sexually mature and have developed adult coloration and size. ("Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)", 2009; Ferguson, et al., 2004)

Reproduction

Courtship often begins with displays by males. This usually includes the display of bright colors and a series of jerking or bobbing head movements while advancing on a female. Some males advance slowly with a halting or jerky gait, but others move very rapidly and can be aggressive toward females. Females that are unreceptive or gravid may flee or may face the pursuing male with a gaping mouth while hissing, rearing up on the hind legs, and rocking to discourage the male's advances. If the female seems interested, the male will mount the female by grasping her flanks and position himself on the right or left side of her body. Copulation takes place when the male everts the nearest of his two hemipenes and inserts it in the female's cloaca. Some species copulate for a few minutes and others for as long as several hours, after which they typically go their separate ways.

Limited information exists on the mating systems of Furcifer pardalis but some researchers have observed mating behavior consistent with serial polygyny. Captive studies of Furcifer pardalis have shown males to have larger home ranges than females. Females will often stay within a small area and will be visited by roaming males during the breeding season. This species exhibits slight pair-bonding, consisting of males choosing to remain within the female's territory for a period post-breeding and likely defend this female from other males. Females that have already mated have exhibited aggressive behaviors to successive, roaming males. The successful male will stay with the female for a short period post-breeding and then continue roaming, likely in search of another mate. ("Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)", 2009; Ferguson, et al., 2004; Gehring, et al., 2008)

In most locations, breeding occurs between January and May but this may vary geographically. Females of some areas are able to breed multiple times per year. After mating, the gestation period lasts 3 to 6 weeks. The females excavate burrows by digging with their front feet and then backing into them to deposit 10 to 46 eggs. When they are finished, they bury the eggs, fill in the tunnel, and stomp the soil down to conceal the location of the nest. Some females drag leaves and twigs over the site. This is the final act of motherhood for a chameleon, and her young will be independent at birth. The young emerge by slitting a star-shaped opening in the end of the eggshell with the egg tooth, a sharp, calcified protrusion on the tip of the upper jawbone that later falls off. The young weigh 0.25 to 0.75 g upon hatching. Juveniles reach reproductive maturity at 6 months old. (Ferguson, et al., 2004; Gehring, et al., 2008)

  • Breeding interval
    Depending on the location, females will produce several egg clutches a year.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding takes place between the months of January and May.
  • Range number of offspring
    10 to 46
  • Range gestation period
    3 to 6 weeks
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    6 months
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    6 months

Female and male Furcifer pardalis show no further parental investment beyond creating and depositing eggs. The mother will attempt to protect the buried eggs from predators by concealing the location of the nest with twigs and leaves but that is her final involvement and the young will be independent immediately upon hatching.

Female panther chameleons invest significant time and energy in ensuring her young will fully develop. Producing successful chameleon offspring depends heavily on adequate vitamin D amounts within the mother during gestation. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is known to produce vitamin D in the skin of many vertebrates such as the panther chameleons. UV-induced vitamin D serves as a signal in the body to help adjust the calcium-phosphorus balance in the body. Its main function is to stimulate the uptake of calcium from the gut and reduce calcium re-absorption from bone. Eggs fail to hatch if the mother does not have adequate vitamin D from either UV exposure or dietary intake because she cannot supply enough vitamin D to their eggs to facilitate the developing embryos to form their skeletons. An important discovery made in the last few years was that females seem to be able to sense their internal vitamin D-condition, recognize an external UV source and voluntarily expose themselves to that source when they are vitamin D deficient. Alternatively, they choose to avoid high UV sources when they are vitamin D sufficient. ("Furcifer pardalis CUVIER 1829", 2010; Ferguson, et al., 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female

Lifespan/Longevity

While males can exceed five years of age in captivity, most wild panther chameleons survive only one or two years after maturity. Females on average have a shorter lifespan in the wild and in captivity due to the stresses of reproduction and oviposition. ("Furcifer pardalis", 2002; Ferguson, et al., 2004)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    1 to 3 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    5 years

Behavior

Overall the social structure of panther chameleons is poorly understood. Furcifer pardalis, like most chameleons, are known to be solitary and territorial regardless of age or sex. Males tend to have larger home ranges than females. Males are often intolerant of other males invading their resident shrub or tree and will defend their territory by engaging in a display, pursuing, and possibly severely injuring an intruding male. Hostility increases during breeding season. It is not known whether female panther chameleons are intolerant of other females in general or only at nesting sites.

Chameleon eyes do not contain the rods and melanin pigments necessary for night vision and are thus Furcifer pardalis is diurnal. (Ferguson, et al., 2004; LeBerre, et al., 2000; Schuurman, et al., 2008)

Home Range

Territory of F. pardalis is usually limited to a particular tree or shrub. Captive studies of Furcifer pardalis have shown males to have larger home ranges than females. Females will often stay within a small area and will be visited by roaming males during the breeding season. (Andreone, et al., 2005; Ferguson, et al., 2004; Gehring, et al., 2008)

Communication and Perception

During the breeding season, male Furcifer pardalis will increase the intensity of coloration to attract potential mates. Males will also become more vibrant in color during physical battles with competing chameleons. The loser often surrenders by turning drab or dark colors and retreats. Male and female panther chameleons communicate through physical gestures and visual signals. Both sexes will exhibit specific breeding coloration to indicate readiness to mate. Males will perform a courtship display consisting of head bobbing and increased intensity of skin coloration. ("Furcifer pardalis", 2002)

Females communicate their mating status through body coloration. When a female is encountered exhibiting receptive coloration, the male begins courtship behavior, which includes an increase in color intensity and nodding of the head. Over a period of minutes to days after mating, the female is gravid (egg bearing) and displays a non-receptive coloration. The female's stomach turns dark brown or black with orange striping to signify to the other males she has already successfully mated. The exact coloration and pattern of gravid females varies depending on the color phase of the chameleon. This provides a useful way to distinguish between locales. While gravid, females will also make threats to courting males that may approach; these threats consist of opening the mouth wide and rocking back and forth. (Ferguson, et al., 2004; Henkel and Schmidt, 2000)

Chameleons are primarily visual hunters and utilize a unique visual perception system. Their dome-shaped eyes are located on either side of their heads, and are capable of independent movement. When one eye detects a prey object, the head turns to allow both eyes to focus. Their eyes lack the structures necessary for nocturnal vision, thus they are diurnal hunters. (Gehring, et al., 2008; Vitt and Caldwell, 2009)

  • Communication Channels
  • visual

Food Habits

Furcifer pardalis are considered opportunistic hunters because they wait for prey to pass within range of their long tongues. They feed mostly on terrestrial invertebrates and very rarely, plant material. They have the ability to rotate and focus their eyes separately to observe two different objects simultaneously. This allows them a full 360-degree arc of vision around their body while staying completely still and camouflaged. When prey is located in sight, both eyes can be focused in the same direction, giving sharp stereoscopic vision and depth perception. (Schuurman, et al., 2008)

Chameleons have very unique tongues specialized for capturing their prey. An extensive study done in 2000 revealed the complexities of how the chameleon tongue works. The capture of prey was often attributed only to adhesion to the tongue pad but now scientists believe the speed and form of the tongue also creates a suction device. The hyoid bone is a piece of cartilage that extends into the mouth from the throat bones (called the hyolingual apparatus) and is attached to a chameleon's long tongue. This is where the tongue rests when it is not in use. The tongue is launched from the hyoid bone with the use of ringed muscles in the tongue. This highly complex structure is composed of cartilage, muscles, nerves, glands, and tissues that all work together to create an incredibly fast and effective tongue for seizing their food. (Herrel, et al., 2000; Schuurman, et al., 2008)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • flowers

Predation

No specific data is available on predation of F. pardalis. The main predators of chameleons are typically birds and snakes. The ability to camouflage their skin color to match the surrounding environment is their best defense against visual-detecting predators. They are slow-moving creatures that often freeze and remain unmoving for long periods of time which may also aid in going unnoticed by predators. (Vitt and Caldwell, 2009)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Furcifer pardalis do not have any significant impacts on the ecosystem. They do prey on many insects and other invertebrates and thus likely impact those local populations. They also support the populations of predators that prey on them.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

There are relatively few uses for Furcifer pardalis by local people within their range of distribution. Chameleons are not used very often in local cuisine. Furcifer pardalis is however captured and sold within the international live pet trade. The United States, Europe, and Asia are the major participants within this trafficking. (Andreone, et al., 2005)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of Furcifer pardalis on humans.

Conservation Status

Furcifer pardalis is one of the most sought after species of chameleon in the international pet trade due to the beautiful coloration and success of breeding in captivity. From 1977 to 2001 exported Furcifer pardalis chameleons accounted for almost eight percent of total exports of chameleon species to the United States. Stricter trade quotas have been enforced and the recent export levels are within a sustainable range. Currently there is little risk to this chameleon species besides the threat of ongoing habitat loss and modification. ("Furcifer pardalis CUVIER 1829", 2010; "Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)", 2009; Andreone, et al., 2005)

Other Comments

The name chameleon comes from the Greek name khamaileon which is a comibination of khamai which stands for 'on the ground' and 'leon' meaning lion. (Tolley and Burger, 2007)

Contributors

Julie Riney (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects.

Glossary

Ethiopian

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

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

arboreal

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

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

coastal

the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.

cryptic

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.

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

union of egg and spermatozoan

heterothermic

having a body temperature that fluctuates with that of the immediate environment; having no mechanism or a poorly developed mechanism for regulating internal body temperature.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

introduced

referring to animal species that have been transported to and established populations in regions outside of their natural range, usually through human action.

iteroparous

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).

native range

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

nomadic

generally wanders from place to place, usually within a well-defined range.

oviparous

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.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

rainforest

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.

riparian

Referring to something living or located adjacent to a waterbody (usually, but not always, a river or stream).

scrub forest

scrub forests develop in areas that experience dry seasons.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season

sedentary

remains in the same area

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

territorial

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

tropical

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

visual

uses sight to communicate

References

2010. "Furcifer pardalis CUVIER 1829" (On-line). EOL Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed March 20, 2010 at http://www.eol.org/pages/1056895.

2002. "Furcifer pardalis" (On-line). Adcham. Accessed March 21, 2010 at http://www.adcham.com/html/taxonomy/species/fpardalis.html.

2009. "Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)" (On-line). ARKive images of life on Earth. Accessed March 20, 2010 at http://www.arkive.org/panther-chameleon/furcifer-pardalis/threats-and-conservation.html.

Andreone, F., F. Guarino, J. Randrianirina. 2005. Life history traits, age profile, and conservation of the panther chameleon, Furcifer pardalis (Cuvier 1829), at Nosy Be, NW Madagascar. Tropical Zoology, 18: 209-225. Accessed February 18, 2010 at http://www.francoandreone.it/docs/Andreone_Andreone%20et%20al.%20Furcifer%20pardalis.pdf.

Carpenter, A., J. Rowcliffe, A. Watkinson. 2004. The Dynamics of the Global Trade in Chameleons. Biological Conservation, Volume 120, Issue 2: 291-301.

DeNicola, D., J. Christian, M. Bolek, A. Wolf, A. Irizarry-Rovira. 2002. Blood Smear from a Wild-Caught Panther Chameleon. Veterinary Clinical Pathology, 31: 129-132.

Ferguson, G., J. Murphy, J. Ramanamanjato, . Raselimanana. 2004. The Panther Chameleon: Color Variation, Natural History, Conservation, and Captive Management. Malabar, Florida: Krieger Publishing Company.

Gehring, P., N. Lutzmann, S. Furrer, R. Sossinka. 2008. Habitat preferences and activity patterns of Furcifer pardalis (Cuvier, 1829) in the Masoala Rain Forest Hall of the Zurich Zoo.. Salamandra, 44/3: 129 - 140.

Griswold, B., P. Bartlett, R. Bartlett. 2001. Reptiles, Amphibians, and Invertebrates: An Identification and Care Guide. Hauppauge, NY: Barron's Educational Series.

Henkel, F., W. Schmidt. 2000. Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar and the Mascarene, Seychelles, and Comoro Islands. Malabar, FL: Krieger Publishing Company.

Herrel, A., P. Aerts, J. Meyers, K. Nishikawa. 2000. The Mechanics of Prey Prehension in Chameleons. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 203: 3255–3263.

Kalisch, K., S. McKeown, G. Ferguson. 2007. Chameleons. California: Advanced Vivarium Systems.

LeBerre, J., F. LeBerre, R. Bartlett, P. Bartlett. 2000. The Chameleon Handbook. Hauppage, New York: Barron's Educational Series.

Martin, J. 1992. Masters of Disguise: A Natural History of Chameleons. New York, NY: Checkmark Books.

Randrianantoandro, C., R. Jenkins, B. Razafimahatratra, M. Soazandry, J. Ratsimbazafy. 2010. Habitat use by chameleons in a deciduous forest in western Madagascar. Amphibia-Reptilia, 31: 27-35. Accessed April 18, 2010 at www.brill.nl/amre.

Randrianirina, J., F. Guarino, F. Andreone. 2005. Life history traits, age profile, and conservation of the panther chameleon, Furcifer pardalis. TROPICAL ZOOLOGY, Volume: 18 Issue: 2: 209-225.

Raxworthy, C., E. Martinez-Meyer, N. Horning, R. Nussbaum, G. Schneider, M. Ortega-Huerta, A. Peterson. 2003. Predicting distributions of known and unknown reptile species in Madagascar. Nature Publishing Group, 426: 837-841.

Schmidt, W., K. Tamm, . Wallikewitz. 1994. Chameleons, Volume I: Species. Neptune City, NJ: T.F.H. Publications.

Schuurman, D., H. Bradt, N. Garbutt. 2008. Madagascar Wildlife. Bucks, England: Bradt Travel Guides.

Tolley, K., M. Burger. 2007. Chameleons of Southern Africa. Cape Town 8001, South Africa: Struik.

Vitt, L., J. Caldwell. 2009. Herpetology. Oxford, United Kingdom: Elsevier Inc..