AskDefine | Define chameleon

Dictionary Definition



1 a changeable or inconstant person
2 a faint constellation in the polar region of the southern hemisphere near Apus and Mensa [syn: Chamaeleon]
3 lizard of Africa and Madagascar able to change skin color and having a projectile tongue [syn: chamaeleon]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From chamaeleon < sc=polytonic, a kind of lizard known for changing its colour, also the name of various plants, so called from their leaves changing colour, < χαμαί (khamai) "on the earth, on the ground" + λέων (leon) "lion". First attested in 1340.


  • /kəˈmi:lɪən/


  1. A small to mid-size reptile, of the family Chamaeleonidae, and one of the best known lizard families able to change color and project its long tongue.
  2. A person with inconstant behavior; one able to quickly adjust to new circumstances.


person with inconstant behavior

Extensive Definition

distinguish Charmeleon Chameleons (family Chamaeleonidae) are squamates that belong to one of the best-known lizard families. The word is the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek χαμαιλέων (khamaileon), from χαμαί (khamai) "on the earth, on the ground" + λέων (leon) "lion", translating the Akkadian nēš qaqqari, "ground lion".


Chameleons vary greatly in size and body structure, with total length from approximately 1 inch (2.5 cm) in Brookesia minima, to 31 inches (79 cm) in the male Furcifer oustaleti. There is a species, thought to be unique to Malawi's Mount Mulanje, which is 0.6 in (1 cm) across when fully grown. Many have head or facial ornamentation, such as nasal protrusions, or horn-like projections in the case of Chamaeleo jacksonii, or large crests on top of their head, like Chamaeleo calyptratus. Many species are sexually dimorphic, and males are typically much more ornamented than the female chameleons.
Chameleon species have in common their foot structure, eyes, lack of ears, and tongue.
Chameleons are zygodactylic: on each foot the five toes are fused into a group of two and a group of three, giving the foot a tongs-like appearance. These specialized feet allow chameleons to grip tightly to narrow branches. Each toe is equipped with a sharp claw to gain traction on surfaces such as bark when climbing. The claws make it easy to see how many toes are fused into each part of the foot: two toes on the outside of each front foot and three on the inside, and the reverse pattern on each hind foot. Chameleons have a long tail that is able to curl up. It is used to balance on tree limbs. Sometimes it is used as a weapon. A chameleon uses its tail almost like a fifth leg. Their eyes are the most distinctive among the reptiles. The upper and lower eyelids are joined, with only a pinhole large enough for the pupil to see through. They can rotate and focus separately to observe two different objects simultaneously. It in effect gives them a full 360-degree arc of vision around their body. When prey is located, both eyes can be focused in the same direction, giving sharp stereoscopic vision and depth perception. They have very good eye sight for reptiles, letting them see small insects from a long(5-10cm) distance.
They lack a vomeronasal organ. Also, like snakes, they do not have an outer or a middle ear. This suggests that chameleons might be deaf, although it should be noted that snakes can hear using a bone called the quadrate to transmit sound to the inner ear. Furthermore, some or maybe all chameleons, can communicate via vibrations that travel through solid material like branches.
Chameleons have very long tongues (sometimes longer than their own body length) which they are capable of rapidly extending out of the mouth. The tongue extends out faster than human eyes can follow, at around 26 body lengths per second. The tongue hits the prey in about 30 thousandths of a second. The tongue has a sticky tip on the end, which serves to catch prey items. The tongue's tip is a bulbous ball of muscle, and as it hits its prey, it rapidly forms a small suction cup. Once the tongue sticks to a prey item, it is drawn quickly back into the mouth, where the chameleon's strong jaws crush it and it is consumed. Even a small chameleon is capable of eating a large locust or mantis. Ultraviolet light is part of the visible spectrum for chameleons. Chameleons exposed to ultraviolet light show increased social behavior and activity levels, are more inclined to bask and feed and are also more likely to reproduce as it has a positive effect on the pineal gland.

Distribution and habitat

More than 160 species of Chameleons are known, arranged in nine genera. The main distribution of Chameleons is in Africa and Madagascar, and other tropical regions, although some species are also found in parts of southern Europe and Asia. There are introduced, feral populations of veiled and Jackson's chameleons in Hawaii and isolated pockets of feral Jackson's chameleons have been reported in California and Florida.
Chameleons inhabit all kinds of tropical and montane rain forests, savannas and sometimes semi-deserts and steppes. They are mostly arboreal and are often found in trees or occasionally on smaller bushes. Some smaller species live on the ground under foliage.


Chameleons are mostly oviparous, some being ovoviviparous.
The oviparous species lay eggs after a 3-6 week gestation period. The female will climb down to the ground and begin digging a hole, anywhere from 4-12  inches (10-30 cm) deep depending on the species. The female turns herself around at the bottom of the hole and deposits her eggs. Once finished, the female buries the eggs and leaves the nesting site. Clutch sizes vary greatly with species. Small Brookesia species may only lay 2-4 eggs, while large Veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) have been known to lay clutches of 80-100 eggs. Clutch sizes can also vary greatly among the same species. Eggs generally hatch after 4-12 months, again depending on species. The eggs of Parson's Chameleon (Calumma parsonii), a species which is rare in captivity, are believed to take upwards of 24 months to hatch.
The ovoviviparous ones, such as the Jackson's Chameleon have a 5-6 month gestation period. The newborn are in a transparent membrane and they are still sleeping, once they touch the ground or branch, they will wake up and attempt to crawl out of the membrane. The female can have 8-30 live young at once. Some are even located in the tropical rainforest.

Feeding habits

Chameleons generally eat locusts, mantids, crickets, grasshopper and other insects, but larger chameleons have been known to eat small birds and other lizards. A few species, such as Chamaeleo calyptratus or Jackson's Chameleon will consume small amounts of plant matter. Chameleons prefer running water to still water.


Chameleons consume a variety of insects, but before they can be fed to them, it's best to gut load them, or fill them with nutrients. This has to be done because chameleons require lots of vitamins and minerals. A good diet for insects would be carrots, potatoes, fish flakes (tropical), dry puppy food, dark, leafy greens, etc. It is also a good idea to dust them with vitamin and mineral powder, such as Zoo Med's Reptivite.

Change of color



chameleon in Arabic: حرباء
chameleon in Bulgarian: Хамелеони
chameleon in Czech: Chameleonovití
chameleon in Danish: Kamæleon
chameleon in German: Chamäleons
chameleon in Esperanto: Ĥameleono
chameleon in Spanish: Chamaeleonidae
chameleon in French: Chamaeleonidae
chameleon in Scottish Gaelic: Leòmhann-làir
chameleon in Croatian: Kameleoni
chameleon in Ido: Kameleono
chameleon in Italian: Chamaeleonidae
chameleon in Hebrew: זיקיות
chameleon in Luxembourgish: Chamäleonen
chameleon in Lithuanian: Chameleonai
chameleon in Kurdish: Margîse
chameleon in Hungarian: Kaméleonfélék
chameleon in Dutch: Kameleons
chameleon in Japanese: カメレオン科
chameleon in Norwegian: Kameleoner
chameleon in Norwegian Nynorsk: Kameleon
chameleon in Polish: Kameleony
chameleon in Portuguese: Camaleão
chameleon in Russian: Хамелеон
chameleon in Simple English: Chameleon
chameleon in Finnish: Kameleontit
chameleon in Swedish: Kameleonter
chameleon in Tamil: பச்சோந்தி
chameleon in Tajik: Бӯқаламун
chameleon in Chinese: 變色龍

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

April showers, Dalmatian, Gila monster, Proteus, Vicar of Bray, agama, alligator, anole, antigorite, bearded lizard, blindworm, box turtle, butterfly, butterfly agama, candy cane, cayman, cheetah, chrysotile, cloud shapes, confetti, crazy quilt, crocodile, diamondback, dragon, false map turtle, firedog, flying dragon, formalist, gavial, gecko, girdle-tailed lizard, glass snake, green turtle, harlequin, hawksbill, hawksbill turtle, iguana, iris, jaguar, kaleidoscope, leatherback, leopard, lizard, mackerel, mackerel sky, marble, marbled paper, matamata, mercury, moire, monitor, moon, mother-of-pearl, mugger, nacre, ocelot, opal, ophite, patchwork quilt, peacock, quicksilver, rainbow, rolling stone, sea turtle, serpentine, serpentine marble, shifting sands, shot silk, soft-shelled turtle, spectrum, stump tail, teju, temporizer, terrapin, the weather, timepleaser, timeserver, tortoise, tortoise shell, trimmer, tuatara, turtle, water, weather vane, weathercock, wheel of fortune, whirligig, zebra
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