Chameleons are popular exotic pets, thanks in part to their color changing abilities. But there’s more to these remarkable reptiles than meets the eye.
There are more than 180 different types of chameleons on the planet, and they vary in size, color and appearance (of course, not all are available as pets).
Most popular pet breeds
Red, gold and green
Chameleons are famous for their color-changing camouflage. But how does their magic skin work?
Many chameleons have a layer of pigments and guanine crystals in the cells beneath their protective outer skin layers. By contracting or expanding these crystals, they can augment how light reflects off the skin to create wild changes in darkness and hue. When a chameleon experiences changes in body temperature, environment or mood, he or she can communicate feelings using this color-changing technique.
Other funky features
As if that wasn’t enough, chameleons have a number of other highly specialized and unique anatomical features. Here are some of the coolest:
(Almost) 360 vision – Chameleons have independently mobile eyes that are set on each side of their head. Add in the ability to transition between monocular and binocular vision, and they can see almost 360 degrees.
Zygodactyl-like feet – Chameleons have five toes: three on one side working together and two on the other side working together. This unique branch-grasping adaptation functions similarly to salad tongs.
Prehensile tail – Chameleons can also grasp objects with their tail, which affords them added grabbing power to move from branch to branch.
Super long tongue – A chameleon’s tongue is roughly double its body length. These extra-long appendages are also super speedy—the fastest tongues can go from zero to 60 mph (nearly 100 km/h) in a hundredth of a second.
Biogenic fluorescence – Some chameleon species from Madagascar and Africa have bones that glow under ultraviolet light.
Loving chameleons is easy, but they do need their space. After all, it’s no surprise that an animal that has so thoroughly mastered hiding may not want to be seen and engaged with that much.
Chameleons aren’t meant to be handled too regularly, and their tolerance for human interaction is generally pretty low. They’re kind of like a fish—meant to be watched and enjoyed, but not played with.
We can't stress this enough
Chameleons are very, very easily stressed animals—and long-term stress can impact their health and longevity. Once stressed, it can take up to seven days for a chameleon to relax and return to normal.
Common stressors include:
Too much handling
Lack of water
Pairing with another chameleon
Seeing its own reflection
Over time, stress hormones will impact a chameleon’s growth and reproduction, and can make them prone to illness. Too much stress can even lead to early death.
Signs of stress:
Loss of appetite
Darker or brighter coloration than usual
Changes in body temperature
Rocking back and forth
Know more about chameleons
Did you know?Nationwide is the only insurer in the U.S. for exotic pets like chameleons.