The Chameleon Effect

I can’t believe I am saying this, but chameleons are fascinating and beautiful. I always thought of them as big lizards, but I have a new appreciation for them after seeing so many of them here in Madagascar. About half of the known species in the world can be found here. We had a lecture the other day about chameleons. I wasn’t even interested in attending since “they are just big lizards” and all that, but went along with Rick since I had nothing else to do. Turns out that, yes, they are big lizards, as are iguanas, but chameleons are very different.

Several characteristics of chameleons are especially intriguing. One is that prehensile tail. Chameleons don’t use it for hanging like monkeys, but instead use it for stabilizing themselves. It acts somewhat like a fifth appendage would. Their bodies are described as “laterally compressed.” I think that’s a fancy way of saying that they are thin, which helps them stay on small limbs without keeling over and falling out of trees since they are arboreal creatures.

Their eyes are phenomenal. The eyes are conical in shape and protrude. Chameleons have the ability to look at and focus on two different objects at the same time. Somehow, their brains can make sense of all that sensory input. Having the ability to take in the view panoramically is helpful in the jungle.

Their feet are also quite unique. They feet are zygodactylous, meaning that they have toes that are fused in groups of two or three and are opposable which is something of a rarity in the animal kingdom. This unique creature feeds by propelling its long sticky tongue towards its prey at a rate of about thirteen miles per hour and basically suctioning the unlucky insect in its crosshairs.

But their beautiful colors are what made me sit up and take an interest. They change colors for several reasons. Obviously, the ability to camouflage oneself is a real plus in the jungle. Chameleons are preyed upon by birds and snakes and aren’t fast movers (plus they have a really funky gait), so the ability to change their appearance and blend in with their surroundings is a big deal. Chameleons also change colors to signal their mood. Certain colors signal an amorous mood and other colors signal anger or fear. Temperature regulation is another reason a chameleon might change colors. A chameleon might change to a darker color in order to absorb heat and warm up, or go bright and light to reflect heat away, thereby cooling itself. I wish I could remember the names of all the types below, but since I’m not sure, I will not guess. I hope you become a fan of these beautiful creatures as I have.

We found this guy on the island of Nosy Komba when we went snorkeling.






Check out those toes!


Check out the prehensile tail at work.

In this photo and the one below are good shots of the zygodactylous feet at work.


  1. Sarah Guida on April 6, 2023 at 12:24 pm

    Amazing! Beautiful creatures! I learned so much about chameleons…

  2. Pam Morgan on April 6, 2023 at 1:59 pm

    Some of their faces look like tropical fish. Bella said she might want one for a friend! NOT!

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