With over 202 species confirmed in 2015, the remarkable chameleon has kept many scientists guessing over the years. These colourful creatures are distinguished by their extremely long and highly modified tongues, their jerk-like walk and their strange feet. Keep reading to find out more about these fascinating creatures!
What They Are:
The chameleon is a clade or categorised group which originates from Old World lizards. They reside in tropical and particularly warm climates, populating Africa, Madagascar, southern Asia and southern Europe.
They range in size, the biggest being the Malagasy giant chameleon, measured to be at almost 70cm and endemic to Madagascar, and the smallest ones being the Brookesia micra chameleon which grow to a maximum size of just under 30cm.
What They Do:
Their tongues are extremely resilient and can sometimes be double the length of their bodies, excluding their tails! Consisting of bones and muscles, the tips of their tongues are cup-like so that they are able to hold onto their prey. Interestingly enough, the smaller the chameleon, the faster the movement of their tongue!
Characteristically distinguished by their swaying gait or jerk-like walk, scientists believe this arbitrary behaviour is part of a camouflaging technique, mimicking the movement of swaying tree leaves, although this is yet to be proven.
These creatures have independently moving eyes, with a ninety-degree angle vertically and one hundred and eighty-degree angle horizontally. Simply put, they can move their eyes separately and can see up to three hundred and sixty degrees! Thus, chameleons can spot prey and predators from a mile away while staying hidden. Hypothetically, if one eye should spy a tasty morsel for lunch, the other one will fixate on it too, allowing the creature some depth perception and a much wider field of vision.
- Chameleon spit is incredibly sticky, with it being four hundred times more viscous than human saliva. The sticky substance coats their tongue, allowing them to pull even heavy victims into their jaws!
- Unlike many other lizards, chameleons cannot regrow their tails.
- Contrary to popular belief, chameleons don’t change colour based on camouflaging themselves in their surroundings. Chameleons change colour due to their mood, change in temperature or humidity, and change in light. This is due to special nanocrystals under their hide which allows the creatures to spread or reduce the space between them and change colour using light reflection. So, if the crystals are close together and reflect blue light, the crystals filter through yellow skin pigments which allow them to appear green to the naked eye!
- Chameleons’ tails act as a fifth limb and can hold the entire weight of their bodies.
- Their zygodactylous feet are formed with two toes facing forward, and two facing backward. This comes in handy for animals that climb tree trunks and foliage!
- There are currently nineteen recorded species of chameleon residing in South Africa.
If you’re keen to spot one of these colourful lizards, book your stay at the luxury Yingwe Lodge for a chance to see them in their natural habitat at the Kruger National Park.