A chameleon sits motionlessly on a tree branch. Suddenly its sticky, two-foot-long tongue snaps out at 13 miles an hour, wrapping around a cricket and whipping the yummy snack back into the reptile’s mouth. Now that’s fast food dining! And the chameleon’s swift eating style is just one of its many features that’ll leave you tongue-tied.
- Common Name:
- Meller's Chameleon
- Scientific Name:
- Trioceros melleri
- Average Life Span In The Wild:
- 12 years
- 21 inches
- 14.4 ounces
Chameleons mostly live in the rain forests and deserts of Africa. The color of their skin helps them blend in with their habitats. Chameleons that hang out in trees are usually green. Those that live in deserts are most often brown.
They often change color to warm up or cool down. (Turning darker helps warm the animals because the dark colors absorb more heat.) They also switch shades to communicate with other chameleons, using bright colors to attract potential mates or warn enemies.
So how exactly do chameleons change colors? The outer layer of their skin is see-through. Beneath that are layers of special cells filled with pigment—the substance that gives plants and animals (including you) color. To display a new color, the brain sends a message for these cells to get bigger or smaller. As this happens, pigments from different cells are released, and they mix with each other to create new skin tones. For instance, red and blue pigment may mix to make the chameleon look purple.
Over 150 species of chameleons exist, ranging from the size of your thumbnail to that of a house cat. Some species of chameleon (such as the tiger chameleon) are endangered, but others (like the Drakensberg dwarf chameleon) are not. No matter their differences, all chameleons have a prize pair of eyes. Their peepers can move in two different directions at once, giving the lizards a panoramic view of their surroundings. This eye-popping reptile really knows how to scale up the cool factor.