Chameleons (Chamaeleonidae) are well-studied representatives of the lizard family, which are perfectly adapted to the arboreal lifestyle, and are also able to change the color of their body.
The wide popularity of chameleons is due to their ability to change the color and pattern of the body, which is explained by some features in the structure of the skin. The fibrous and deeper outer layer of the skin is distinguished by the presence of special branched cells with pigments of dark brown, black, yellow and reddish colors.
It is interesting! It should be noted that green colors in the color of chameleons appear additionally as a result of the refraction of light rays in the surface skin layer with guanine crystals.
As a result of the reduction of processes of the chromatophores, redistribution of the pigment grains and a change in the color of the skin occur. Due to the combination of pigments in both layers, a variety of color shades appear.
Most species of scaly reptiles have a body length of 30 cm, but the largest individuals reach a size of 50-60 cm. The length of the body of the smallest chameleons does not exceed 3-5 cm. The head is helmet-shaped, with a raised occipital part. Some of these representatives of the lizard family are characterized by the presence of more or less convex ridges, tubercles, or elongated, pointed horns. Often such formations are developed exclusively in males, and in females they are represented by rudimentary forms.
The legs of a scaly reptile are long, well adapted for climbing. The fingers of the animal grow together in a pair of groups of two and three opposing each other, due to which they have the appearance of a kind of "claws" that can tightly wrap around tree branches. The tail at the base is thick, gradually tapering towards the end, sometimes spiraling downward and twisting around branches. This tail ability is characteristic of most members of the family, but chameleons do not know how to restore a lost tail.
Chameleons are distinguished by unusual organs of vision. The eyelids of a scaly reptile fused and constantly covering his eyes, but with a hole for the pupil. In this case, the right and left eyes can carry out inconsistent movements.
It is interesting! The so-called "inoperative" position of the tongue is accompanied by holding it in the lower jaw with a special bone, and too heavy or very large prey is seized with the mouth.
During the hunt, such animals are able to sit motionless on tree branches for a long time, tracking prey only with their eyes. The animal catches insects with a tongue equipped with a sucker. Such creatures do not have an external and middle ear, but hearing can sensitively pick up acoustic waves within the sound range of 250-650 Hz.
Almost all the life of chameleons takes place on the branches of dense shrubbery or on tree branches, and the scaly reptile prefers to descend extremely rarely to the surface of the earth. You can catch such an animal on the ground, as a rule, during the mating season or in the process of hunting for some very tasty prey.
On the surface of the soil, chameleons move on paws, which have a claw-shaped very unusual shape. It is such a structure of the extremities, supplemented by a tenacious tail that is ideally suited for living in the crowns of trees. Not too large in size, scaly reptiles are quite lazy and phlegmatic, lead a sedentary lifestyle and prefer to move as little as possible, most of the time just sitting in the chosen place.
It is interesting! Despite the fact that a significant part of the species lives on branches, some are able to live in desert conditions, dig earth holes or seek refuge in fallen leaves.
Nevertheless, if necessary and the emergence of a real danger, the animal is able to run fast and rather deftly jump along branches. The peak of the period of activity of the chameleon falls on a brighter time of day, and when night falls, the animal prefers to sleep. In the process of sleep, the reptile is unable to control the change in the color of its body, therefore it can become very easy prey for all kinds of predators.
How many chameleons live
The average life expectancy of chameleons in natural conditions is approximately four years, but among the representatives of the family there are also so-called centenarians. For example, giant chameleons are able to live in nature for about fifteen years, and the life cycle characteristic of some representatives of the genus Furcifer most often is no more than five months.
Determining the sex of an adult chameleon is not too complicated even for ordinary people. If the scaly reptile managed to take camouflage color, then you should examine the tarsal processes, which are spurs near the legs of the animal.
It is interesting! It is quite possible to determine the sex of the animal on day 14 by color, as well as by a thickened tail base, starting from two months of age.
Male individuals have small growths on the back of their paws. The absence of such outgrowths is characteristic only for females. Among other things, males are distinguished by a brighter color and larger body size.
Types of Chameleons
The total number of chameleon species changes as a result of the discovery of new subspecies, as well as in connection with the unstable modern taxonomy. The family includes 2-4 genera and 80 species of lizards with a peculiar appearance, among which the most famous are:
- Yemeni Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) - refers to the largest representative of the family. Males have a green background color with yellow and red spots on the sides. A chic large crest adorns the head, and yellow-green stripes cover the tail. The body is flattened from the sides, and the back is decorated with a crest and noticeably arched;
- Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) - an incredibly beautiful appearance of a reptile, the color of which is influenced by climatic features and some other factors of the habitat. The length of an adult varies between 30-40 cm. Plant food is practically not used. Females dig their nests and lay their eggs;
- Carpet Chameleon - One of the species of chameleons found on the island of Madagascar and on the territory of neighboring islands. The animal is the owner of a lively character and a beautiful multi-colored color. An unusual pattern on the body is represented by longitudinal stripes, as well as oval side spots;
- Four-horned Chameleon - the owner of three or four characteristic horns located in the head area. The animal is a typical inhabitant of the mountainous forest zones of Cameroon, where it prefers to settle in the most inaccessible places. The length of an adult varies between 25-37cm. Representatives of this species are distinguished by a long abdominal and large dorsal crest;
- Jackson's Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii) is an interesting species, the males of which zealously guard the borders of their territory, are extremely aggressive in nature, and during a fight or fight they inflict traumatic bites to each other. Males have three horns and a tenacious tail, while females have one nasal horn. The skin resembles the skin of dinosaurs, rough and similar to the bark of trees, but soft and pleasant to the touch. Color varies from yellow-green to dark brown and even black;
- Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) - the most common species that inhabits deserts and forests, located in northern Africa, India, Syria, Sri Lanka and Arabia. The body length reaches 28-30 cm, and the color of the skin can be spotty or monophonic;
- View Calumma tarzan - belongs to the category of rare. It was discovered in the northeastern part of Madagascar near the village of Tarzanville. The length of the adult with the tail varies between 11.9-15.0 cm;
- View Furcifer labordi is unique in its kind, and newborn cubs are able to increase in size by a factor of five in a couple of months, therefore they belong to peculiar champions in terms of growth rate;
- Giant chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti) - refers to the largest chameleons in the world. The average body length of an adult is 50-68 cm. Yellow, green and red spots are located on the brown background of the body.
Along with other lizards, a significant part of the known species of chameleons lays eggs during the breeding season, but there are also separate subspecies that give birth to already living cubs in cocoon-shaped sacs.
It is interesting! The smallest is a leafy chameleon that can be placed on a match head, since the size of such an adult miniature does not exceed one and a half centimeters.
The distribution area of the Yemeni chameleon was the state of Yemen, the high mountains of the Arabian Peninsula and the hot regions of the eastern part of Saudi Arabia. Panther chameleons are typical inhabitants of the island of Madagascar and neighboring islands, where they prefer warm and humid places, tropical climatic conditions.
Jackson's chameleon inhabits the territories of East Africa and is found in the forest zones of Nairobi at an altitude of 1600-2200 meters above sea level. A scaly reptile often lives high above ground, inhabiting the crowns of trees or shrubs. Chameleons can settle in all kinds of tropical forest zones, savannas, some steppes and deserts. Wild populations are found in Hawaii, Florida, and California.
It is interesting! Quite often, changes in the color of the chameleon can be a kind of demonstration of the threat, which is aimed at scaring off enemies, as well as rapid changes in color are observed in mature males at the breeding stage.
Endemic to the island of Madagascar is a giant chameleon that lives in moist and dense forests, where small-sized mammals, medium-sized birds, lizards and insects readily eat such scaly reptiles. A miniature species of Brookesia micra was discovered on Nosu Hara Island in 2007. Desert chameleons live exclusively in the territories of Angola and Namibia.
Absolutely all chameleons existing today, including the largest in size Melleri and small Brukesia, which lives under the protection of fallen foliage, are typical predators, but some species are quite capable of absorbing food of plant origin. Mostly plant foods are represented by coarse plant leaves, fruits, berries and even the bark of some trees.
The main food base of all chameleons are considered to be all kinds of flying and crawling insects, as well as their larval stage. Potentially chameleons can be eaten by any non-toxic insects in the form of spiders, beetles, butterflies, flies and dragonflies. Since the birth of scaly reptiles, they are able to distinguish edible insects from poisonous ones, so there have been no cases of eating wasps or bees. Even hungry chameleons ignore such inedible live "feeds."
Many of the largest species of chameleons sometimes eat small lizards, including small relatives, rodents, and even small birds. In fact, the object of their attention is represented by absolutely any "living creature" that can be caught with a long tongue and then swallowed. The diet of the Yemeni chameleon is necessarily supplemented with vegetable feed. In the home reptiles you can feed:
- sweet cherries;
- lettuce and cabbage salad;
- dandelion leaves;
- not too stiff vegetables.
Plant food is also actively consumed by the Panther Chameleon, Parsony and Maly, due to the need to replenish moisture and get the necessary amount of vitamins.
It is interesting! Chameleons often give the impression of incredibly thin and constantly hungry animals, but such lizards are simply not too voracious by nature, therefore, compared to many other reptiles, little feed can be absorbed.
Breeding and offspring
Most species of chameleons currently living on our planet belong to the category of oviparous and are represented by such well-known species as Yemen, Panther, Maly and Parsoni. As a rule, after mating, the female hatches eggs for one or two months. A few days before the laying, the females begin to refuse to eat, but consume a small amount of water. During this period, a scaly reptile becomes extremely aggressive and very restless, can take a stressful bright color and is able to react nervously even to the simple approach of a mature male.
By the end of the gestation period, in most females, eggs can be easily felt in the abdomen. In some species, pregnancy is noticeable to the naked eye. Closer to the time of oviposition, the animal often descends to the ground in order to find the most suitable place for arranging the hole. Depending on the species, females usually lay from ten to sixty leathery eggs. The total number of clutches often reaches three in one year, but too frequent pregnancies greatly undermine the female’s health, therefore such animals live half the size of males.
Females of various species, even in the absence of a sexually mature male, annually lay so-called "fat" eggs. Cubs from such eggs do not appear, and the absence of fertilization causes them to spoil after a week or even earlier.
Among other things, depending on the species characteristics of the chameleon, the duration of embryo development inside the egg can vary significantly, taking from five months to a couple of years. The cubs that are born are quite well developed, and after being released from the egg shell they immediately run away towards the nearest dense vegetation, which helps to hide from predators.
Most often, chameleon babies start eating on their birthday or only the next day. In addition to oviparous reptiles, there are very few species that are viviparous chameleons. Their main category includes mountain species of scaly reptiles, including the horned chameleons of Jason and Verneri. However, such chameleons cannot be fully designated as viviparous. Embryos, as in the reproduction of egg-laying species, develop inside the egg, but the female chameleon does not bury the masonry under the ground, and until they are born, they are carried inside the womb.
In the process of childbirth by females, babies most often dumped are born from a small height on the surface of the earth. Not too strong a blow, as a rule, serves the kids as a special signal for finding reliable shelter and food. Most often, from such “live-bearing” scaly reptiles ten to twenty cubs are born, and during the year no more than two offspring are born.
It is interesting! Chameleons are very poor parents, so immediately after birth, small reptiles are left to their own devices until they acquire offspring or become prey of predators.
The black color of the chameleon is able to scare away some enemies, but such a mourning color is acquired by the males, rejected by the females, as well as those who were defeated or forced to retire in disgrace.
Potential enemies of chameleons in natural conditions are quite large snakes, predatory animals and birds. When enemies appear, the lizard tries to scare off its opponent, inflates, changes color and hisses quite loudly.
Population and species status
Chameleons are justifiably just unsurpassed masters in camouflage, but this ability cannot save them from complete disappearance. On the territory of southern Spain, scaly reptiles are used as common and harmless domestic inhabitants, extremely useful in domestic conditions. These special pets actively eat flies that are extremely annoying in many hot countries.
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The main reason for the extinction was the expansion of all kinds of agricultural land, as well as too active deforestation. To date, already ten species of such reptiles have the status "Endangered", about forty species are close to obtaining this status, and twenty may well disappear in the very near future.