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Episode 54: Karma, Karma, Chameleon

One of the world’s most fascinating reptiles, the Chameleon is found in Africa, Madagascar, and small populations in Southern Europe and Asia. Chameleons are incredibly unique reptiles with an uncanny ability to change their skin with a rainbow of colors.

Chameleon Background

There are over 200 species of Chameleons. Of these, over 50% are from Africa, and 44% are found on the large island of Madagascar off the African coast.

The Belalanda Chameleon is one species that highlights just how these reptiles are under increasingly pressure and heading to extinction. It is currently believed this species in Madagascar is found only in an area of 1.5 square miles. Madagascar is an ecological hotspot with over 90% of its natural landscape developed for human use.

Chameleons like many other reptiles are ancient animals. It is currently thought Chameleons diverged from a common ancestor with Iguanas over 120 million years ago. Approximately 65 million years ago Chameleons began to inhabit Madagascar but its wasn’t until around 15 million years after the 5th Mass Extinction (T Rex one…60-65 million years ago) did Chameleons begin to diversify into the many species we see today.

One of the world’s smallest reptiles is the Brookesia Micra, a tiny Chameleon found off the coast of Madagascar that measures from 0.5 to 1 inch (15-30 mm) in length.

The Panther Chameleon is one of the most colorful species.

Chameleon Physiology

  • Chameleons can live 2-3 years in the wild and usually 10 years under human care.
  • They have a prehensile tail that helps grip and do not drop it like other lizards to escape predators.
  • Complex skin layers giving ability to change colors. Top skin layer made of chromatophores with yellow and red coloration. Second skin layer Guanophores made up of crystalline (crystals) that help reflect light, usually in a blue hue. Scientists are still studying this phenomenon.
  • Can change skin color within 20 seconds. Can be an indication of mood or other hormonal or neural inputs.
  • Poor hearing but incredible eyesight. Each eye can operate independently and see 360 degrees. Can see both visible and ultraviolet light.
  • Diet with vary with species, generally considered omnivores. Diets include insects, fruits, foliage, snails, worms, and even smaller reptiles.

Conservation Tip

Cocoa plantations are springing up all over Madagascar and other parts of the world in response to worldwide demand. While we cant recommend you stop eating chocolate, you could avoid other products like cocoa butter, oil or other products to help reduce demand. Cocoa should follow in the footsteps of palm oil in trying to start better, sustainable sources.

Organizations to Support

Chameleon Specialist Group IUCN



Karma Chameleon is a song by Culture Club released in 1983

September 11, 2018
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