Calumma parsoniiParson’s chameleon

Geographic Range

The Parson’s chameleon, Calumma parsonii, is limited in distribution to the eastern side of the island of Madagascar. Parson’s chameleon includes two distinct subspecies, Calumma parsonii cristifer and Calumma parsonii parsonii, both live within a few kilometers of each other. (Zug, et al., 2001; Burger, 2007)


Parson’s chameleon is native to the wetter forests of Madagascar in the elevated eastern areas (maximum altitude of 2134 meters) but can be found at lower elevations, along the coast. The lower coastal regions as well as the elevated (forest-canopy) regions remain humid and warm throughout the year, with an average temperature of 27 to 32 degrees Celsius. Chameleons typically live in hot, moist environments, but can tolerate the cooler temperatures in Madagascar. In the eastern region of Madagascar, the average year-round temperature is usually 20 to 28 degree Celsius. Rainfall within their habitats can reach 381 cm per year. Their range is widespread throughout the rain forests of Madagascar.

The two subspecies of Parson’s chameleon differ slightly in their habitat preferences. Calumma parsonii cristifer mainly occupies primary, or unharvested, forests in the higher mountains and Calumma parsonii parsonii inhabits cooler, less dense forests lower in elevation. (Zug, et al., 2001; Schurmann, 2008; Le Berre, 1995)

  • Range elevation
    0 to 2134 m
    0.00 to 7001.31 ft

Physical Description

Parson’s chameleon is the largest species of all extant chameleons. This species exceeds 60 cm in total length at maturity, with snout-vent measures averaging 20 - 30 cm. This species may weigh upwards of 700 g at maturity. Parson’s chameleon has a pinnochio-like appearance due to the larger nasal appendages. Their garish noses make them easy to identify as a species. Males have been known to have forked noses or very rarely, a pair of noses. Male coloration also is described as brighter or bolder than females.

Parson’s chameleon includes two subspecies: Calumma parsonii parsonii which has less noticeable colors, also has no dorsal crests and may reach up to 68 cm in length. Calumma parsonii cristifer has more blue hues on its body, a dorsal crest and may reach up to 47 cm in length. Parson’s chameleon is equipped with two front and two back legs, in which both the front and back limbs contain toes that are zygodactylous, two toes point forward and two toes point backward. Their limbs assist in both stable walks and climbs.

Parson's chameleon has very noticeable eyes due to their bright orange color, contrasting from their green skin. These are very distinct, as their lower and upper eyelids are joined. This minimizes the area that the pupil can be exposed to light. The eyes have the ability to focus on two dissimilar items concurrently and have a field of vision encompassing all 360 degrees.

Although chameleons lack a visible ear, they are not thought to be deaf. Like most lizards, Parson’s chameleon is equipped with an exceptionally long tongue that can be rapidly extend to catch prey. A chameleon’s long tongue can be up to two times its body length.

Parson's chameleons are ectothermic, regulating their body temperature by remaining stationary for periods of time and prolonged basking in the sun. (Fry, 2001; Schwab, 2011; Wildscreen USA, Inc., 2012; Burger, 2007; Le Berre, 1995; Watkinson, 2004)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • sexes shaped differently
  • Average mass
    700 g
    24.67 oz
  • Range length
    47 to 62 cm
    18.50 to 24.41 in
  • Average length
    60 cm
    23.62 in


Female Parson's chameleons typically climb down from their tree homes and bury their eggs underground. Females lay 20-60 eggs, which incubate for a year, occasionally up to two years. Hatchlings use their single egg tooth, a temporary tooth-like “spear” on its nose, to cut through egg shell. The offspring emerge head first and the egg tooth falls off soon after birth. Parson’s chameleons hatch within a week of each other in the same brood. Unique coloration and specific markings on offspring are not observed until about 5 months, which is also when the sex is likely distinguishable. Juvenile Parson’s chameleons are typically terracotta-colored. Males have been noted as having bolder colors whereas females show more dull, earth tones. Offspring are sexually mature by year three. Chameleons continue to grow throughout the entirety of their life. However, the rate of growth is highest for younger chameleons and shedding occurs more often. When shedding occurs, the epidermis “cracks” and new skin cells underneath push through to the surface. This old skin dries up, hardens, and breaks off. (Hutchins, 2003; Wildscreen USA, Inc., 2012; Burger, 2007; Le Berre, 1995; Vences, 2006)


Parson’s chameleon is polygamous, with females mating once per year. Usually the breeding season is around 3 months after winter, which, in Madagascar, is May through October. Males usually initiate the first exchange. Male and females tails intertwine during copulation. Males will leave females when they are no longer able to get pregnant. In a captive study, males were found to be dominant and guarding.

During the mating season, male chameleons will follow and guard the female at close range. In a wild study, both male and female moved together throughout their home range. Males may guard more than one female during the breeding season. though they refuse to guard more than one at a time.

Females have a gestation period of 3 – 5 months. Females then dig their holes, lay eggs, bury them and leave. (; Cuadrado, 2001; Burger, 2007)

Parson’s chameleons have been observed to have only 1 clutch per year. Females lay eggs, about 20-60, in a small hole dug in the ground away from their tree home. Eggs incubate up to two full years and can triple in size by the end of incubation. Offspring use a miniscule cranial protrusion called an egg tooth to break through the egg. Parson’s chameleons breed late in their life cycle becoming sexually mature by 3 years old. Copulation begins 3 months after winter dormancy, beginning in January and onward. The entire mating season lasts up to 8 weeks after winter is over. Gestation period is from three to five months. Offspring can weigh up to 4 grams but range from 1 – 4 grams. The eggs on average have a width of 1.5cm and a height of about 2.5 cm. (Hutchins, 2003; Zug, et al., 2001; Schurmann, 2008; Burger, 2007; Le Berre, 1995)

  • Breeding interval
    Copulation begins 3 months after winter dormancy and the entire mating season lasts up to 8 weeks after breeding season has begun
  • Breeding season
    Post winter: October, November and December
  • Range number of offspring
    20 eggs to 60 eggs
  • Range gestation period
    3 to 5 months
  • Average time to independence
    0 minutes
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 to 5 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    3 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 to 5 years
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    3 years

Female Parson's chameleons leave their eggs after laying them and do not return. After a year to two year incubation period, the eggs begin to hatch. There is a single clutch each year female Parson’s chameleon mate. Chameleons have been documented to hatch within a week of each other. Because the female is not present at hatching, these tiny chameleons are on their own from the beginning. Though they lack parental guidance, offspring of Parson’s chameleon often hatch and will stay together as a group. (Hutchins, 2003; Zug, et al., 2001; Halliday (Editor) and Adler (Editor), 2002; Wildscreen USA, Inc., 2012; Burger, 2007; Chen and Holick, 2002; Vences, 2006)

  • Parental Investment
  • no parental involvement
  • precocial


In the wild, researchers estimate that Parson’s chameleon is known to live 4 to 10 years. Lifespan is limited in the wild by deforestation as well as over-collection. Habitat loss is the main contributor to the very slight population decline.

In captivity Parson’s chameleon has been documented to only live up to 4 years. Lifespan in captivity is vastly different and therefore limited by the species being unable to adapt reproductively to their living environment. (Budovsky and Lehmann, 2013)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 to 12 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    6 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    4 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 to 10 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: wild
    4 years
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: captivity
    1 to 4 years
  • Average lifespan
    Status: captivity
    4 years


Chameleons have the discernible trait of changing skin color. They accomplish this feat by employing specialized pigment cells called melanophores. Melanophores, a type of chromatophore, contain melanin which controls the amount of light that gets reflected. Chromatophores, the layers of skin cells, respond to chemicals from the blood stream as well as the nervous system. Color changes can be due to external responses, light sensitivity and temperature, as well as internal responses. Examples of internal responses include physical health, hormonal response to the presence of the opposite sex, and stage of sexual maturity. The color intensity is dictated by granules when signaled by their brain. Parson's chameleon males and females go from dark brown to bright green, with formations of line patterns appearing and disappearing.

Parson's chameleon is arboreal and rarely on the ground. The arrangement of digits on their feet enables them to cling to trees with their tails acting as a fifth limb. Sharp claws on their front feet are used by females to dig tunnels for egg- laying. Parson's chameleons are typically inactive and wary of the world around them. Males engage in dramatic territorial displays but are otherwise passive.

During courtship as well as species recognition, males often change their color in an aggressive territorial manner. Parson's chameleons regularly use their tails to communicate also. Males have been known to coil their tails up tightly then whip them forward during some escalated aggression periods. Females are easily stressed and display with yellow blotches distributed over the head and body.

Being ectothermic, Parson's chameleon regulates its body temperature by basking in the sun. This species basks in the sun for up to 20-minute time increments before it moves back into the shade. Chameleons normally seek places to rest near dusk on the same tree they stayed on all day. (; Stuart-Fox, et al., 2006; Hutchins, 2003; Zug, et al., 2001; Halliday (Editor) and Adler (Editor), 2002; Burger, 2007; Jenkins and Ravoahangimalala, 2007; Le Berre, 1995; Vences, 2006)

  • Range territory size
    1 to 12 m^2

Home Range

Parson's chameleon rarely departs from the tall tree it occupies during the day. It basks in the sun then moves to the shade, all on the same branch. The home range could be anywhere from 1 - 12 square meters, depending on tree height. (Fry, 2000; Vences, 2006)

Communication and Perception

Parson’s chameleon is a color-changing lizard. It contains skin cells that have two differently colored pigments in them. Color-changing is a way for chameleons to communicate their mood and feelings, as well as their body temperature. Color change has also been spotted during mating: females change color to prove to males they are mature enough to mate. Male chameleons guard and defend females during breeding season by following the female wherever it goes; once a male finds its mate, all other males are deemed intruders. Chameleons are equipped with very distinctive eyes. This species can move single eyeballs at once. Unlike most species that employ a “plus” crystalline lens, this chameleon has a “minus” crystalline lens. In this case, light deviates from being focused properly. Normally an animal has a plus lens converting light rays into focused images. The union of their extraordinary-powered cornea lens in addition to the diverging minus lens creates a sort of Galilean telescope. Although Parson’s chameleon lacks an external organ for hearing, this species feels vibrations and can “sense” sounds through their internal sensor. Chameleons have been documented to pick up narrow sound ranges from 200 Hz – 600 Hz. They may also create extremely low vibrations, similar to producing purrs, that are thought to be a way a communication through species. (Schurmann, 2008; Cuadrado, 2001; Wildscreen USA, Inc., 2012; Jenkins and Ravoahangimalala, 2007; Watkinson, 2004)

  • Communication Channels
  • visual

Food Habits

Chameleons are stationary ambush predators. Parson's chameleons are omnivorous, devouring most plants, insects and possibly small birds. They are primarily listed as insectivores because their diet mainly consists of: mantis (Mantodea), large beetles including tiger beetles (Cicindelidae) as well as most ground beetles (Carabidae), moths including the Madagascan sunset moth (Chrysiridia rhipheus), and roaches including the Madagascar hissing cockroach (Gromphadorhina portentosa). They have been speculated to eat small mammals and birds. They utilize their prehensile tail as an anchor by fastening themselves to trees or branches while they search for and devour prey.

The Parson’s chameleon captures its prey by shooting out their sticky projectile tongue. Their tongue acts as a suction cup; once prey is attached, it is not coming off. Food is seized and swallowed almost whole. While their eyes move, their body does not because they have the ability to scan their entire habitat with independently-moving eyes. A chameleon’s lack of movement as well as environment-adapted skin change enable the predators to completely catch prey off guard.

Parson's chameleons congregate at certain times of the year. For example when coffee plants are blooming they can be found on the coffee plants waiting for insects, like the turnip moth (Agrotis segetum). (Hutchins, 2003; Zug, et al., 2001; Schurmann, 2008; Fry, 2000; Wildscreen USA, Inc., 2012; Vences, 2006; Watkinson, 2004)

  • Animal Foods
  • birds
  • mammals
  • Plant Foods
  • leaves
  • wood, bark, or stems


If a predator were to approach a Parson's chameleon located on a branch, it would simply let go, drop to the ground and play dead. Rarely do chameleons scurry but if a predator is seen approaching, it has the ability to move itself quickly. All moving objects must be analyzed as a potential threat. Chameleon's telescope-like and individually-moving eyes allow a 360 view of the world.

Successful predators of Parson's chameleon include large birds such as buzzards, eagles, hawks, coucals Centropus, shrikes, hornbills (Family Bucerotidae), and owls. Snakes also prey upon this species. (Burger, 2007; Fry, 2001; Hutchins, 2003; Le Berre, 1995; Schurmann, 2008; Zug, et al., 2001)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

By preventing the overpopulation of particular insects and small invertebrates as well as providing nourishment for larger reptiles, the role that Parson’s chameleon plays in the ecosystems of Madagascar is that of both predator and prey.

One documented study noted that the nematode endoparasite Hexametra angusticaecoides was found in Parson’s Chameleons. One of the first hosts of Hexametra angusticaecoides larvae is a cockroach, Periplaneta orientalis. Parson’s chameleon then ingests the cockroach that contains the second stage larvae, which cling to the host and initiate growth. This study was inconclusive on the effects of the parasite Hexametra angusticaecoides in Parson’s chameleon. (Morton and Krysko, 2012)

Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Hexametra angusticaecoides, a nematode

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Parson’s chameleon is sometimes traded as a pet. This species is of interest to dedicated reptile enthusiasts. The pet trade has become increasingly popular though the luxury of owning a Parson’s chameleon tends to thwart the regular reptile owner. It is expensive to own a chameleon but due to Parson’s chameleon large size, they require extra effort, food, caging and space. The average price for a Parson’s chameleon ranges from $1500 - $3000 and it is unknown how most potential owners obtain them. There are no legally-established captive-breeding programs currently available. Legal issues in owning this pet are still murky. (Fry, 2001)

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The only adverse effects of Parson’s chameleon for humans is that the trade regulation subdued the import and export of this species, potentially creating financial dilemmas for existing traders in the United States and Madagascar. (Watkinson, 2004)

Conservation Status

Parson’s chameleon is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List. It is listed on Appendix II of CITES, meaning the species is being noted as not necessarily threatened with extinction but has the possibility of extinction if trade of this species is not kept regulated. A cause of the Parson's chameleon's slight decline is due to the anthropogenic transfer of this species from country to country. Another possible causes of this species decline could be the collapse of Madagascar’s natural fauna and flora due to human influence on rain-forests.

To help this species recover, strict procedures of trade are being upheld. Madagascar is found to be the main export country while the United States is the main import country of Parson's chameleon. CITES noted that Parson's chameleon has not been legally traded since 1995, the year when restrictions on the chameleon's mass import came into play. (Jenkins and Ravoahangimalala, 2007)

Other Comments

Chameleons are actually very stationary creatures but will climb through plant and trees if they feel it's completely necessary. The name chameleon is derived from the Greek words "chamai" which means 'on the ground' or 'on the earth' and "leon" which means lion. Chameleons are literally called "earth lions". (Zug, et al., 2001; Wildscreen USA, Inc., 2012)


Elizabeth Hamer (author), Radford University, Karen Powers (editor), Radford University, Tanya Dewey (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.



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

World Map


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


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


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.


An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.


imitates a communication signal or appearance of another kind of organism


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.


an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals


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.


having more than one female as a mate at one time


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.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


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


lives alone


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


movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others


uses sight to communicate

young precocial

young are relatively well-developed when born


Budovsky, A., G. Lehmann. 2013. "AnAge entry for Calumma parsonii" (On-line). AnAge: The Animal Ageing and Longevity Database. Accessed September 05, 2013 at

Burger, M. 2007. Chameleons of Southern Africa. South Africa: Struik Publishers.

Chen, T., M. Holick. 2002. Effects of artificial ultraviolet light exposure on reproductive success of the female panther chameleon in captivity. Zoo Biology, 21/6: 525-537.

Cuadrado, M. 2001. Mate guarding and social mating system in male common chameleons. Journal of Zoology, 255: 425–435.

Fry, M. 2001. "Chameleon Information Network" (On-line). Accessed September 05, 2013 at

Fry, M. 2000. "Parson's chameleons" (On-line). Skypoint. Accessed September 05, 2013 at

Halliday (Editor), T., K. Adler (Editor). 2002. Lizards. Pp. 202 in The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians, Vol. 1/2, 2 Edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Hutchins, M. 2003. Chameleons (Chamaeleonidae). Pp. 223-242 in J Jackson, ed. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 7, 2 Edition. Detroit, MI: Gale.

Jenkins, R., O. Ravoahangimalala. 2007. Habitat use and abundance of a low-altitude chameleon assemblage in eastern Madagascar. The Herpetological Journal, 17/4: 247-254.

Le Berre, F. 1995. The New Chameleon Handbook. Hauppauge, New York: Barrons Educational Series Inc.

Morton, J., K. Krysko. 2012. Known hosts of the nematode endoparasite (Ascarididae: Hexametra angusticaecoides), including the Madagascar leaf-nosed snake (Lamprophiidae: Langaha madagascariensis). Management of Biological Invasions, 3/1: 57-59.

Schurmann, D. 2008. Madagascar Wildlife. Buckinghamshire, United Kingdom: Bradt Travel Guides.

Schwab, I. 2011. Evolution's Witness: How Eyes Evolved. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Stuart-Fox, D., M. Whiting, A. Moussalli. 2006. Camouflage and colour change: antipredator responses to bird and snake predators across multiple populations in a dwarf chameleon. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 88: 437–446.

Vences, M. 2006. A Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar. Cologne: Vences & Glaw Verlag GbR.

Watkinson, A. 2004. The dynamics of the global trade in chameleons. Biological Conservation, 120/2: 291-301.

Wildscreen USA, Inc., 2012. "Parson’s chameleon (Calumma parsonii)" (On-line). ARKive. Accessed September 05, 2013 at

Zug, G., L. Vitt, J. Caldwell. 2001. Herpetology: An Introductory Biology of Amphibians and Reptiles. San Diego, California: Academic Press.