Need Another Hand? A Look at the Chameleon’s Prehensile Tail

At some point in our lives, we all wish we had an extra hand to help us through our day.  In the case of the chameleon, they essentially do.  It’s called a prehensile tail.

The term prehensile describes the tails ability to grasp objects.  A chameleon uses its prehensile tail to assist them as they move between branches while climbing through the trees, as well as using their tails to provide additional stability when they are perched.  The tail functions like a fifth appendage, providing support and assisting balance.

Unlike the prehensile tails of certain other species, chameleon tails function as a coil and cannot be moved in any direction it chooses.  The coiling action is what helps grab onto tree branches and other supports as it moves.  The tail forms a spiral around the object and the chameleon is able to squeeze the object for support.  This is particularly helpful when a chameleon is moving down a tree, as it allows the chameleon to climb in a vertical position.

Not All Chameleons Have Prehensile Tails

While the vast majority of chameleons do have prehensile tails the pygmy chameleons belonging to the genera Brookesia and Rhampholeon generally do not.  Being a pygmy chameleon does not automatically mean they will not have a prehensile tail, as smaller chameleons in the Bradypodion genus have quite long prehensile tails just like its larger-sized brethren.

Tail Curled Up?  I’m Resting

When a chameleon is at rest, the tail curls into a tight spiral.  It is not fully understood if this action is due to the fact that it makes the chameleon appear larger, possibly helping to ward off potential predators, or if it is simply a more comfortable position, it appears to be a common resting point for all chameleons with prehensile tails regardless of the genus.

Chameleons Cannot Regenerate Their Tails

While some species of lizards can regenerate their tails, with some being able to disconnect the ends of their tails at will to distract predators, a chameleon does not have this ability.  Since the tail has a more complex structure, allowing it to provide additional function beyond that of certain other lizards, the loss of its tail would be permanent.

In fact, the only species of vertebrates that can regenerate complex structures, such as those found in most limbs and tails, are those belonging to the family of Urodele amphibians.  Other lizards that are able to regenerate their tails are actually only able to regrow imperfect copies that do not have the same structure or abilities of the original.

Tails as a Sign of Health

A healthy chameleon’s tail will likely have a fairly strong coil, will exhibit similar coloring to the rest of the body, and will move properly for your chameleon’s needs.  If any changes to the tail are noted, it could be a sign that something is wrong.

Whether due to a physical injury or damage from an unknown cause, if your chameleon’s tail looks like it has seen better days, it is best to contact your veterinarian.  An abnormal sloughing or necrosis of the tip of the tail can be a sign of a more serious condition, such as a Vitamin A imbalance, which may require immediate professional treatment.


Learn to Fly | Air Travel with Your Chameleon

Airplane in the sky at sunset

In a previous post, we reviewed how to travel with your chameleon during relatively short road trips, most applicable to those taking less than a day to complete.  Today, we are going to review what it takes to help your chameleon fly on a commercial aircraft.  Travel is part of the American paradigm.  Whether it is a cross-country move to pursue a new opportunity, or a quick visit during a summer vacation, the idea of traveling is ingrained within many societies.  With the desire to travel, often comes the occasional airline flight.

While many people are aware that cats and dogs can be flown from one location to another with relative ease, traveling with more exotic pets is not as well covered.  In order to provide some general guidance on what you may be able to expect when traveling with your chameleon, we offer the following basic guidelines to help you get started.

Airline Travel is Not Recommended

First, it is important to understand that commercial air travel is not an ideal situation in which to transport your chameleon.  Traveling by car, while stressful, provides an additional level of control as well as the ability to directly observe your chameleon for the duration of the trip.

It may also be worthwhile to check into specialty shipping services, as they may be able to provide a less stressful experience for your chameleon, and may be better equipped to manage any unforeseen situations that can arise.

Travel Restrictions

You will need to research if your destination, as well as any layover cities, have any requirements or restrictions regarding the transportation of animals into the area.  Not all states or countries permit exotic animals, and this restriction can include animals who are only passing through on a layover.  Before finalizing any travel arrangements, make sure that all points along the way are chameleon friendly.

Get an Appropriate Carrier

First, all animals must be transported in an approved carrier.  The carrier is designed to withstand the physical demands that may be placed upon it during transport and provides a level of physical protection to your chameleon.  You will need to include any required health information with the carrier, as dictated by the airline, and should make sure the carrier is clearly marked with your name and contact information, as well as marked as containing a live animal.

As with vehicle travel, it is ideal if you can make the space as dark as possible, as this may encourage your chameleon to sleep through much of the trip, though the airline may restrict anything that prevents them from having a way to examine the interior of the carrier.  Additionally, make sure your chameleon will have adequate traction, as you may not be able to secure a branch for them to climb on depending on the carrier involved.  Generally, if the carrier must be physically altered to add a branch, it may no longer be considered airline approved.

Contact the Airline Directly Once You Book the Flight

It is important to note that the information here is designed to provide an overview of common expectations or requirements.  Before attempting to travel with your chameleon, or any pet for that matter, it is critical to contact the airline directly to get more complete information regarding their standards.

Most airlines will require you to reserve space for your chameleon in advance, as airplanes may have limited capacity in regards to the transportation of animals.  This is due to the need for a pressurized and temperature controlled area, as not all baggage is transported in that way, and space is often filled on a first-come, first-serve basis.  Additional fees may apply.

A Chameleon will likely be Checked Baggage

The vast majority of airlines will not permit reptiles as carry-ons regardless of the size or the reptile or the carrier in which it is placed.  With that in mind, you will need to proceed under the assumption that it will likely be kept in an area with other animals, and that the journey will be considered a highly stressful event overall.

With that in mind, it is wise to avoid any unnecessary layovers, especially when a change of plane is involved.  Not only will this increase the total duration of the experience, but it also ups the stress level as the animal carrier will be handled more frequently.  When possible, try to get direct flights.

You should never attempt to sneak your chameleon (or any animal) onboard an aircraft at any time, regardless of the reason.  If you attempt to sneak your pet past a security checkpoint in order to bring them onboard, you pet may be confiscated when you are caught.

Convenience and Cost

Most people would not consider traveling with a chameleon on an airline particularly convenient, and the cost is often high.  Shipping a pet as checked baggage can easily cost upwards of $100 one-way.  Additionally, extreme heat or cold weather may make your pet ineligible to fly as the airline considers the situation to high risk.

If you really have no other options, flying with a chameleon can be done, but other options are likely to be both more cost effective and less stressful.  We will cover information on other transportation options in future posts, including long distance travel by car, as well as an introduction to pet shipping company practices.




Fast Food | How the Chameleon’s Tongue Catches Prey


While most people have heard that the sticky, rough texture of a chameleon’s tongue is the main reason it is able to snag its prey, there is actually a lot more to it than that.  A series of subtle changes, often only observable after the feat is recorded with a high-speed camera, are actually much more responsible for the win than just the tongues texture.  Here, we take a look at what makes a chameleon’s tongue such an excellent hunting weapon.

Tongue Design

The tongue of a chameleon is quite long, with some chameleon’s having tongues that stretch as far as one and a half time their body length.  The core contains a small segment of bone at the base, some collagen, and various muscular structures.

A series of sheaths built around the collagen can be retracted, creating a source of stored energy similar to the energy creating when a person pulls back on the string of a bow which allows the tongue to move faster than it could through the use of muscle power alone.  That stored energy can then be used to project the tongue forward, out of the mouth, with the ultimate goal of contacting, and capturing, their targeted prey.

High Speed Action

Part of the reason a high-speed camera is required is the sheer speed at which the action takes place.  Based on the research of two Dutch biologist, it is estimated that a chameleon’s tongue reaches speeds of over 13 miles per hour.  A special section of highly elastic collagen tissue exists within the tongue that creates what is referred to as a biological “catapult” that assists in accelerating the tongue at speeds well beyond those of that can be achieved through the use of muscle alone.

As the tongue leaves the chameleon’s mouth, the tip is convex, similar to the shape of the tip of a bullet.  As the tip of the tongue approaches its target, a set of muscles within the tongue, referred to as pouch retractors, contract quickly.  This pulls the tip of the tongue inward, creating a concave shape.

africa-1170043Why the Shape Change Matters

As the tongue shifts from convex to concave in shape as it just begins to contact its prey, it creates an area that functions like a suction cup.  This suction helps secure the prey on the tip of the tongue, allowing it to be pulled toward the mouth for feeding.

The force of the suction allows a chameleon to capture prey that it could not catch if the tongue was just sticky.  For example, certain insects have smooth surfaces, which would make them more difficult to capture through the tongue’s texture alone.  The suction also allows a chameleon the opportunity to hunt larger prey, such as birds and lizards, which can weight around 10 percent of the chameleon’s own body weight.

With the chameleon’s unique tongue design is just one part of the overall package that makes chameleons strong hunters.  Combined with their eyes that can locate, track, and target prey located within a 360 degree range, and it can be difficult to for prey to escape this speedy eater.


Let There Be Light | Meeting Your Chameleons Lighting Needs


Most chameleons are creatures of the sun.  They may sit and bask for most of a day when in their natural habitats.  In order to provide the healthiest environment for chameleon, it is vital that you supply the right kinds of light to meet their needs.

UVB Light

One of the most important forms of light for your chameleon is UVB.  Like people, chameleons require exposure to UVB to help produce vitamin D within their bodies, which is critical for body functions supported by calcium, including bone growth.

Without proper UVB lighting, your chameleon may begin to suffer from the effects of a condition known as Metabolic Bone Disease, or MBD.  MBD can lead to improper bone growth and development, as well as make your chameleon prone to fractures.  In severe cases, MBD can cause paralysis, or even death.

With UVB light being of such importance to your chameleon’s health, it is best to make sure that the light from the UVB bulb covers a large portion of your chameleon’s enclosure, as this ensures they will receive contact from the light on a regular basis.  The bulb can remain on for 10 to 12 hours a day, and should be shut off at night.

Additionally, keep an extra bulb on hand at all times.  That way, should your current bulb stop working, you will be able to replace it without a significant delay.  Many lamp fixtures come with plastic covers that are designed to protect the light bulb from incidental contact or breakage.  If the lamp does have a cover, it is important that the cover is not designed to filter out UVB light, as this may prevent your chameleon from receiving the proper health benefits.

Beautiful sunlight through cloudsBasking Bulbs

Basking bulbs, or heat lamps, provide chameleons with an area that is heated above the rest of the environment.  Heat sources of this nature provide an effective mechanism for the regulation of their body temperature.  This allows them to experience warmer temperatures when desired, while also providing the option to move to cooler areas, which simulates the conditions present in the wild between areas hit by direct sunlight and those in the shade.

As with the UVB lights, basking lights should also be turned off at night, as this further helps simulate the conditions in their normal habitat.  It is not uncommon for chameleons in the wild to experience very hot days and notably cooler nights.  Replicating these circumstances can help make sure your chameleon participating in a natural day/night rhythm.

When selecting a lamp for a basking bulb, it is important to find one that is both designed to handle the wattage as well as the heat being generated.  Standard table lamps may not be properly equipped to handle the specialty bulbs that are required, which could result in the bulb or lamp breaking, and could pose a significant fire risk.

Since having the ability to warm themselves during the day is a regular part of a chameleon’s day, having a spare basking bulb available is wise to ensure their overall comfort.

Combination Bulbs

Some bulbs that have been designed to specifically meet the needs of reptiles, and certain other species, offer bulbs that function as both UVB and basking lights.  This can be an ideal solution for those who have only a limited number of suitable power outlets near the enclosure.  Though may not be ideal depending on the precise heating needs of your chameleon as compared to their UVB needs.

As with the single purpose bulbs, keeping a spare on hand is especially critical with combination bulbs, as the light going out not only limits access to a valuable heat source, but to UVB as well.

Proper Lighting is Just a Part of Overall Chameleon Care

Chameleon enclosures require a number of other components in order to meet their needs.  Providing proper lighting is just one step that helps ensure the health of your reptile companion.  If proper lighting cannot be supplied, it is best to wait to acquire a chameleon until these needs can be met.