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Chameleons are specialized tree lizards. They have quite the variety of remarkable and distinctive physical features. From head to tail, the chameleon is perfectly refined and adapted to thrive in his arboreal environment. But as well as being an effective hunter, his various body parts enable him to communicate mood, trick predators and scan the periphery without moving.
Chameleons can move their eyes independently, meaning they can view a panorama of their surroundings up to 180 degrees. Since the chameleon relies on camouflage for both hunting and avoiding prey, this ability to take in their surroundings without moving their head is extremely useful. The eyes are large and sit on each side of the chameleon’s head, each pointing in the opposite direction to the other.
The chameleon’s tongue can be up to 1.5 times longer than his body and when not fully extended, is coiled inside the neck. When he spots his prey, the chameleon unfurls his tongue and flicks it out. The insect sticks to the chameleon’s tongue, which he then rapidly retracts into his mouth before enjoying his meal. This unusual feeding process happens extremely quickly and because he is camouflaged, the chameleon typically strikes before he is spotted by his victim.
The chameleon’s natural color is green, meaning he can blend in with the trees in which he lives. It’s a myth that chameleons change color to blend in, they change color to stand out. Color change occurs when chameleons want to communicate with each other, for example to challenge other chameleons, to show submission or to indicate that they want to mate. The skin is layered and each layer has a different collection of pigments. The chameleon changes color by turning those pigments on or off, using his nervous system to release chemicals that affect the skin.
One of the chameleon’s most specialized body parts are his feet, which have an unusual appearance. Each foot has five toes. On the front feet, two toes point outward and three point inward and one the hind feet, three toes point outward and two inward. This digit configuration enables the chameleon to grip branches and climb with impressive dexterity.
The chameleon’s impressive tail is used for both balance and for creating illusions of grandeur. When the chameleon is climbing, his tail provides balance and grip. When he feels threatened, he coils his tail to make his body appear larger.
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