There are many different kinds of reptiles in the world, and some of them can be challenging to tell apart. Lizards, in particular, often look the same to the casual observer–chameleons, iguanas, and geckos, especially, are very easy to confuse. But they are not the same. In this article, we’ll compare the chameleon vs the iguana vs the gecko so you can learn more about their similarities and differences. Ready to get started?
What You'll Learn Today
What is a Chameleon?
Chameleons are a class of lizards containing over 150 distinct species. Chameleons are mostly found in Africa, though they also live in extreme southern parts of Europe and Asia.
Chameleons are known for their ability to change skin color, which allows them to camouflage to their surroundings. They also change color to warm up and cool down their bodies, as well as to communicate with other chameleons.
Chameleons can live in different habitats and environments, but they are mostly found in rainforests and deserts. Their round, bug-like eyes can move in two directions at once, allowing them to get excellent views of their surroundings.
As mentioned, there are many different chameleon species; they vary greatly in size, ranging from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a house cat.
Check out this cool video of a chameleon changing colors:
What is an Iguana?
Iguanas are large lizards found primarily in Central and South America as well as some of the Caribbean Islands. There are about 35 distinct species of iguana.
Iguanas can be as small as 5 inches or as large as 7 feet, depending on the species. Iguanas eat mostly plant foods like fruit and flowers, though some may also eat insects and snails from time to time.
Iguanas live in a variety of habitats, including rainforests, swamps, lowlands, and even some deserts. They can’t change their skin color, but their color patterns vary widely depending on species: they may range from bright green with blue or white bands to dull brown.
Most iguanas have rows of spines on their backs which they use for defense.
Iguanas have different physical skills and abilities; some run fast, others swim, still others are excellent rock climbers. These abilities depend on species and the regions where they live.
What is a Gecko?
Geckos are small nocturnal lizards found living on every continent except Antarctica. There are more than 1,000 distinct species of gecko making up six different families.
Geckos range from ½ inch to two feet long depending on species. They have soft skin that doesn’t change colors, but they come in different shades of green and brown based on individual species and habitat.
Geckos have suction-like pads on the bottoms of their feet which make them excellent climbers. They can shed their tails to escape from predators.
Geckos live in many different environments, including rainforests, deserts, and even high up in cold mountain climates. They are omnivores, eating mostly insects, flower nectar, and some kinds of fruit.
Most geckos don’t have moveable eyelids; instead, they have transparent, immovable eyelids which they lick clean with their long tongues.
What are the Differences Between Chameleons and Iguanas?
- Scientific name: Chameleons fall under various genera which are all collected under the family Chamaeleonidae. Iguanas also fall under various genera, but they all belong to the family Iguanidae.
- Size: Chameleons and iguanas both come in a variety of sizes, but in general, iguanas are larger than chameleons.
- Where they live: Chameleons are mostly found in Africa, while iguanas are found primarily in the Americas. Their ranges do not overlap.
- Physical abilities: Chameleons can change the color of their skin and move their eyes in two directions at once; iguanas don’t have these abilities. On the other hand, iguanas can swim better and run faster than chameleons.
What are the Differences Between Chameleons and Geckos?
- Scientific name: As noted above, chameleons belong to the family Chamaeleonidae. Geckos, on the other hand, belong to the family Gekkonidae.
- Size: Like chameleons and iguanas, geckos come in many different sizes. But, in a general sense, geckos are smaller than chameleons.
- Distribution: Chameleons have a fairly small distribution, as they are found throughout much of Africa but only in isolated regions throughout the rest of the world. Geckos have a much larger distribution, being found throughout the world on every continent except Antarctica.
- Physical characteristics: Chameleons have rough, bumpy, leathery skin that changes color. Geckos have soft, smooth skin that cannot change color.
What are the Similarities between Chameleons, Iguanas, and Geckos?
- All lizards: Chameleons, iguanas, and geckos are all different classes of lizards. Each class contains multiple distinct species.
- Similar diets: All three types of lizard have fairly similar diets. Though some prefer fruit and others prefer insects, they are all omnivorous animals that eat both plant matter and insects depending on what is readily available.
- Multiple species: Each type of lizard is not a singular species, but rather a class containing multiple species. Geckos contain the greatest number of species with over 1,000, chameleons are next with at least 150, and iguanas have the fewest species with around 35.
Chameleons, iguanas, and geckos are all different types of lizard, but they are not closely related to each other. They each belong to different scientific families made of genetically-similar animals.
Chameleons are found in Africa and isolated areas of Europe and Asia; iguanas are found throughout South and Central America and the Caribbean Islands; and geckos are extremely widespread, as they can be found everywhere except Antarctica.