A Dwarf and a Giant: Chameleons’ Extreme Size Diversity

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

Courtesy of Frank Glaw, Jörn Köhler, Ted M. Townsend, Miguel Vences - Glaw F, Köhler J, Townsend TM, Vences M (2012) doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031314
Courtesy of Frank Glaw, Jörn Köhler, Ted M. Townsend, Miguel Vences – Glaw F, Köhler J, Townsend TM, Vences M (2012) doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0031314

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 Parsoni Male 1 - Canvas Chameleons Small (1)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?

Male #2 Calumma Parsoni Cristifer - Canvas Chameleons (4)

Thinking about buying a chameleon?

Canvas Chameleons - Ambanja - Panther - Wild Caught

Thinking about buying a chameleon?

Chameleons are beautiful reptiles that can be wonderful pets, but owning a chameleon is not the same as owning a cuddly dog or bunny. If you’re thinking about buying a chameleons, here are some things you should consider before making your decision.

  1. Chameleons do not like company. Most chameleons like to be left alone (by their owners and by other chameleons), although there are some species that are a bit more social than others. This means if you purchase more than one chameleon, each chameleon should have its own cage. For those species that are more social and will tolerate living in the same cage as another chameleon, you must make sure the cage is large enough to provide each with enough personal space; you should also provide large plants to block their view of each other. Ask when purchasing multiple chameleons if they prefer to be caged alone.
  2. Chameleons need large, well-ventilated spaces. While chameleons are mostly sedentary, they need large spaces because small spaces cause them stress. They also need ample climbing space and proper ventilation to be comfortable and to regulate their body temperature.
  3. Chameleons can appear content but actually be stressed out. Chameleons instinctively freeze or drop to the ground when scared or threatened, giving them the appearance of being calm. This makes them easy to pick up and carry around, and handlers often think the chameleons are content because they are not trying to get away; however, that is their freeze instinct kicking in. Be careful when handling chameleons because you may be causing them undue stress which will have negative impacts on their health. You should also avoid placing their cages in high traffic, noisy areas because this also causes them stress.
  4. Chameleon cages require lots of maintenance. You must make sure their cages are properly cleaned on a regular basis. Temperatures must be regulated to keep your chameleon comfortable, and the plants you have in the cages must provide chameleons with the ability to climb around (and don’t forget to make sure the plants are not toxic!). Reptiles also require UV rays to regulate their body temperature, so you should consider having a special light available for this. You don’t want to keep the cage in constant, direct sunlight, though, because your chameleon needs dark spots in the cage to conceal itself (the plants help with this, too) and cool down its body temperature.
  5. Chameleon nutrition is important. Chameleons eat insects, so if you don’t like bugs then a chameleon may not be your best option for a pet. Also, you do not place a water dish in a chameleon cage. Chameleons can only see moving water, and having a dish with standing water can be a safety hazard. You should spray your chameleon with fresh water regularly; if this is not possible, provide a suspended bottle of water that regulates the flow of water drips. Make sure the water is not too hot and not too cold, but is just right.

If you still want a chameleon after reading this, that’s great! Your next step is learning about the different types of chameleons you can buy and more details about caring for them. Contact Canvas Chameleons to learn more.

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