Chameleons of Madagascar —

Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)
More chameleon photos

How do chameleons change colors?
Chameleons have two layers of specialized cells that lie just beneath the lizard's transparent outer skin.
Wikipedia explains the structure as follows: "The cells in the upper layer, which are called chromatophores, contain yellow and red pigments. Below these chromatophores is a another cell layer. Cells of this layer are called guanophores and they contain the colorless crystalline substance guanin. These guanophores reflect among others the blue part of incident light. If the upper layer of chromatophores is yellow, the reflected light becomes green (blue plus yellow). A layer of dark melanin containing melanophores is situated even deeper under these blue and white light-reflecting guanophores. These melanophores influence the lightness of the reflected light. All these different pigment cells can relocate their pigments, thereby influencing the color of light which is reflected."
Madagascar is home to about half the world's 150 or so species of chameleons, including both subfamilies, typical chameleons (Chamaeleoninae) and dwarf chameleons (Brookesiinae).

Chameleons are small to mid-size reptiles that are famous for their ability to dramatically change colors (how?). Contrary to popular belief, a chameleon typically does not change colors to match its surroundings. Instead, color is usually used to convey emotions, defend territories, and communicate with mates.

Other easily noted characteristics of chameleons include bulging eyes that move independently of one another, feet fixed in a grasping position, and the existence of horns or crests on the heads of many species. Additionally, arboreal species have prehensile tails used for grasping objects when climbing and moving. Finally, some species have long extensile tongues for catching insects or small vertebrates at a distance sometimes greater than the length of the chameleon.

Chameleons are diurnal, solitary, and often aggressive towards members of their own species (marked by rapid color change and aggressive posturing). They are opportunistic hunters that wait for prey to pass within range of their long tongues. Chameleons have a bizarre way of moving in which they slowly rock back and forth between each step taken, often in time with the movement of nearby leaves being blown by the wind. Most chameleons lay eggs.

Other notes:
  • The name "Chameleon" is derived from the Greek words chamai (on the ground, on the earth) and leon (lion) so their name means "earth lion."
  • In some areas Malagasy fear chameleons. They are also the subject of some well-known local proverbs including “Manaova toy ny dian-tana jerena ny aloha, todihina ny afara,” which translates to "Like the chameleon, one eye on the future, one eye on the past"; "Ratsy karaha Kandrondro," meaning "ugly as a chameleon"; "Mahatsidia vokon' Anjava kely izy fa mafoaka," a warning to walk carefully so as not to step on a Brookesia, which would bring great misfortune.

    List of selected chameleons in Madagascar:
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma andringitraensis
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma boettgeri Boettger's Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma brevicornis Short-horned Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma capuroni
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma cucullata Hooded Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma fallax
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma furcifer Fork-nosed Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma gallus
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma gastrotaenia
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma glawi
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma globifer
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma guibei
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma guillaumeti
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma hilleniusi
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma linota
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma malthe
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma marojezensis
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma nasuta
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma oshaughnessyi O'Shaughnessy's Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma parsonii Parson's Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma peyrierasi
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma tigris
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma tsaratananensis
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma vatosoa
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Calumma Calumma vencesi
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia ambreensis
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia antakarana
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia bekolosy
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia betschi
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia bonsi
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia brygooi
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia decaryi
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia dentata
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia ebenaui
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia exarmata
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia griveaudi
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia karchei
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia lambertoni
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia lineata
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia lolontany
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia minima Nosy Be Pygmy Leaf Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia nasus
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia perarmata Armored Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia peyrierasi Peyrieras's Dwarf Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia stumpffi
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia superciliaris Horned Leaf Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia therezieni
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia thieli Thiel's Pygmy Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia tuberculata
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia vadoni
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Brookesia Brookesia valerieae
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer angeli Angel's Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer antimena Spiny Desert Rhinoceros Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer balteatus
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer belalandaensis
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer bifidus
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer campani
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer labordi Labord's Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer lateralis Jeweled Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer minor Lesser Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer monoceras
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer nicosiai
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer oustaleti Oustalet's Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer pardalis Panther Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer petteri Petter's Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer polleni Pollen's Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer rhinoceratus Rhinoceros Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer tuzetae
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer verrucosus Warty Chameleon
    Lizards / Chamaeleonidae (Chameleons) / Furcifer Furcifer willsii Willsi's Chameleon

    Find a mistake? Want to submit pictures or content? Contact

    About Madagascar
    Media resources
    Madagascar Travel
    About the site [partner site]
    Environmental news [partner site]
    Rainforests [partner site]

  • WILDMADAGASCAR.ORG aims to raise interest in Madagascar, a land of cultural and biological richness

    Madagascar Pictures
    Newsletter / alerts
    People of Madagascar
    About the site
    Educational materials
    Help Madagascar
    In French

    You can help support by using this link to buy from

    Beautifully illustrated with full color photographs throughout, Madagascar Wildlife is a celebration of the unique fauna of a remarkable island and the perfect accompaniment to Bradt's popular general travel guide, Madagascar.

    This portable guide offers a full survey of all Madagascar's mammals, both endemic and introduced, including many newly identified species. With vivid color photographs, line illustrations, and maps, Mammals of Madagascar: A Complete Guide is an essential book for any visitor.


  • Madagascar Wildlife T-shirt
  • Dancing lemurs T-shirt
  • Madagascar Chameleons Calendar
  • Madagascar wildlife bag

  • home | photos index | search | about | contact

    Unless otherwise noted, all content and images are the property of Rhett Butler, content copyright 2004-2012.
    All rights reserved.