Chameleon: Key Facts

Did you ever wonder what allows chameleons to change their skin color? Perhaps you’d like to learn more about their other skills and abilities, where they live, or how many species of chameleon there are. Keep reading! In this article, we’ll explore these and other chameleon key facts.

Quick Facts About Chameleons

Scientific Name:Chamaeleonidae
Number of Species:202
Physical Description:Tree-dwelling lizards known for their ability to change color. Most chameleons are shades of brown, gray, and green, but they can turn red, yellow, blue, orange, purple, and many combinations of these. They have long tails and four limbs with fused toes which help them better grip tree branches. Their round, bug-like eyes can move independent of each other to give them a 360-degree view. They have long, sticky, tongues which they use to catch insects.
Distribution:Widespread throughout Africa; also found in parts of southern Europe and Asia.
Habitat:Generally found in warm regions including rainforests, deserts, and savannas. 
Average Size:22mm to 27 inches, depending on species
Average Lifespan:3 to 10 years
Diet:Omnivore; foods include:
– Insects and invertebrates
– Fruits and vegetables
– Small birds and reptiles
Largest Species:Malagasy Giant
Smallest Species:Brookesia Nana

What Are Chameleons?

Chameleons are a class of lizards that have the ability to change their skin color. They use this special skill to communicate with each other, express their moods, and camouflage to their surroundings.

Chameleons are mostly found in Africa, especially on the island of Madagascar, where about half of the world’s chameleons are located. They can also be found in parts of Europe and Asia, and they are kept as pets throughout the world.

Chameleons live in a variety of climates ranging from rainforests to deserts. They eat mostly insects, though some also eat small birds and reptiles, and most supplement their diet with plant matter such as fruits and vegetables.

Check out this video to learn more about chameleons:

Interesting Chameleon Facts

  • A chameleon’s tongue can lash out at up to 13 miles per hour, reaching its prey in as little as 0.07 seconds. The tongue may be as much as twice the length of the chameleon’s body.
  • The smallest chameleon, Brookesia Nana, can fit comfortably on your fingertip.
  • According to the Optical Society of America, chameleons’ ability to change color comes from pigments in their skin along with certain cells which act like tiny prisms. These prisms, called iridophores, reflect light differently as they shift, and the pigments in the skin enhance the colors being reflected  
  • Some chameleons may appear to glow when exposed to ultraviolet light, due to a property in their bones known as biogenic luminescence.
  • Chameleons’ eyes can move independently of each other, allowing them to focus in two different directions at once and get a 360-degree view of their surroundings.
  • Chameleons can hear, but they don’t have ears or ear openings.
  • Chameleons can see both ultraviolet and visible light.


Chameleons are fascinating lizards with many impressive abilities. While they are most known for their color-changing abilities, chameleons can also look in two different directions at once, see ultraviolet light, and project their tongue at an impressive 13 miles per hour. Read our article about chameleon and their eggs to learn more.

Read also about other forest reptiles – here are our guides about copperheads, iguanas, komodo dragons.

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