The panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) is a native species of Madagascar. It inhabits central-eastern, northeastern, northern and northwestern coastal regions and islands and is found in lowland, tropical forests and along rivers. Panther chameleons are known for exhibiting varied and vibrant colors that indicate changes in mood, temperature, light and surroundings. These colors are used to signal and communicate with other panther chameleons, as well as with predators and in response to threats.
Twice as large as their 13-inch female counterparts, male panther chameleons are also much more vividly colored. Coloration and patterning vary, depending on location of origin, and the different color patterns of panther chameleons are commonly named after the specific geographical area they inhabit in Madagascar. Female coloration also varies within geographic location, but the differences are typically very subtle. Color changes occur because chameleons have layers under their visible skin with pigments that allow color change, plus layers without special pigments that reflect and scatter light to display colors. Chameleons exhibit a variety of patterns, including colored bands, stripes and spots around their head and eyes.
Male panther chameleons from the island of Nosy Be have brightly hued blue-green, emerald-green or turquoise bodies. Their lips are bright yellow or white, and they have gold or red around their eye turrets. Ambanja have a light green to blue-green body with vertical lateral bands of dark red, blue or purple. Diego Suarez panthers are considered red phase panthers. They have red to green faces and red, green and orange to yellow stripes on their back. Sambavas have red faces with black stripes on the face and through the eyes. Maroansetra panthers are typically orange to red with some white. Tamatave have dark green bodies with markings that are more red than orange.
Chameleons tend to display their least vivid colors during a predator-prey interaction. This is not the case when displays are directed toward rivals. They exhibit the greatest range of colors during aggressive male flashing contests, during which they often contrast rather than blend with background vegetation. The Ambanja’s eye turrets are all red or a combination of red, yellow and green, especially when displaying. Eye turrets of the Diego Suarez are usually burgundy, but black and red patterns occur during social displays. The Maroantsetra’s eye turrets can turn black and gray during displays toward a female or rival male.
Male and female chameleons that are interested in mating with each other will both display their most distinct and vivid colors. Receptive females may become pale then vivid orange or pink, but after a successful mating, their color changes to black with bright orange or pink vertical stripes in bold color patterns, signifying to males that they have no intention of mating. Sambava males are usually dark green to almost black, but turn completely orange or red when displaying for breeding.
In its relaxed state, the Diego Suarez coloration is green with dark transversal bands; however, when excited this chameleon can become yellow with dark bands. When male Ankaramy chameleons, known as “pink panthers,” are excited, they exhibit a beautiful pink coloration with a yellowish-white lateral line mid-body. Whereas dark vertical bars often appear on the chameleon’s body and tail, when chameleons are stressed, the bars are typically nearly invisible.
Maura Wolf's published online articles focus on women, children, parenting, non-traditional families, companion animals and mental health. A licensed psychotherapist since 2000, Wolf counsels individuals struggling with depression, anxiety, body image, parenting, aging and LGBTQ issues. Wolf has two Master of Arts degrees: in English, from San Francisco State University and in clinical psychology, from New College.