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Chameleons come in a rainbow of colors with a variety of features and in a variety of sizes; however the size difference between the largest and smallest chameleon is extreme — one is the size of a small house cat and the other fits comfortably on the tip of your thumb. The extreme variation in size is a wonderful example of how diverse chameleons can be.
Smallest chameleon: Brookesia micra
Brookesia micra is the world’s smallest chameleon; it is also the tiniest lizard that has been discovered thus far. It was discovered on Nosy Hara, a tiny island off Madagascar, in 2012. Adults grow only about 1.1 inches in length (small enough to rest on the head of a matchstick). These chameleons may be effected by “island dwarfism,” a phenomenon in which a species adapts over time to its restricted habitat by becoming smaller. Dwarf chameleons originally evolved on Madagascar, thus Brookesia micra chameleons may be exhibiting an extreme case of island dwarfism considering their close proximity to Madagascar. Brookesia micra chameleons typically live in leaf litter during the day as they forage for food, but they climb out onto limbs at night for protection and do not move once they find their spot.
Brookesia micra chameleons are light gray on the head, back, and tail with the tail becoming an orange and then a yellow color near its tip. The sides of the chameleons are brown.
Largest: Parson’s chameleon
Parson’s chameleons are thought to be the largest chameleons in the world; they live in the central eastern forest regions of Madagascar. These chameleons can grow up to 27 or 28 inches in length throughout their lifetime and weigh one to two pounds. Yes, you read that correctly – “throughout their lifetime.” Unlike most other animals, chameleons never stop growing throughout their lifetime; they simply shed their skin when they outgrow it. Parson’s chameleons have a lifespan of more than 6 years. A parson’s chameleon’s tongue can be as much as twice the length of its body.
Parson’s chameleons have ridges that run from above their eyes to their nose, forming two warty horns. They can vary in color from green to turquoise to yellow; the Calumma parsonii cristifer subspecies is typically bluer and smaller than the Calumma parsonii parsonii subspecies.
These chameleons represent just one example of the stunning diversity of chameleons. What are some of your favorite examples of chameleon diversity?