Chameleons are the superheroes of the lizard world with 360 degree vision, a lightning fast extendable tongue and the ability to change colour.
Colour varies from pale yellow through to shades of green and brown. As the name suggests, they have movable flaps either side of their neck. Their conical eyes have fused eyelids and can rotate independently, allowing them to focus separately on two different objects at the same time. Their feet are specifically adapted for gripping the branches of bushes and trees, which is their normal habitat. Each foot has 5 ‘toes’ each with a sharp claw but split into 2 distinct prongs. The front feet have 3 toes on the outer prong and 2 toes on the inner prong. This is reversed on the back feet.
Chameleons change colour through a complicated manipulation of pigment cells, nanocrystals in the skin that affect light waves, as well as melanin that can cause the skin to darken. Despite the general believe that this is a camouflage technique, it is mainly an emotional response, such as anger or fear, as well as changes to light and temperature.
They put on a fierce display when threatened or showing aggression: they raise their neck flaps; puff up their neck pouches; rock back and forth; open their mouths and hiss in a very intimidating way. Combined with their magical ability to change colour, this may be why they are considered a bad omen in many African cultures.
Initially chameleons search for prey using monocular vision, each eye moving independently. Once they have found their quarry, they combine their vision to binocular mode, focusing on one single image. This helps chameleons to hunt food more effectively.
Flap-necked chameleons mainly eat grasshoppers and beetles. The tongue is incredibly long and can reach its prey in just 0.07 seconds. The tip of the tongue is a bulbous ball of muscle with a sticky mucous coating and as it hits its prey it rapidly forms a small suction cup to capture its prey.
They have a short mating season and this is the only time the females allow the males near them. Females dig a hole in the ground to bury her eggs, normally around 10-40. These hatch around 10 months later. Chameleons don’t look after their offspring so hatchlings have to defend themselves from the start.