Is Chameleon a lizard? All You Must Know!

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Chameleons are the most interesting and fascinating lizards in the world. Their colorful appearance has a lot of awesomeness and beauty hidden behind the scenes.

People often think that chameleons can change body colours and yes they do so. But, there’s a lot more interesting about them as they are very tricky, clever and are known as the world’s most talented reptiles.

Yes, chameleons are true lizards. These lizards belong to Class Reptilia, Order Squamata, and Sub-order Iguania of the Animal Kingdom.

Chameleon is an arboreal lizard and so they live in trees. They can change their body color with that of the environment or the tree they are living on, and this helps to better camouflage themselves.

Chameleons are mostly seen in Africa, Madagascar, and Europe. Some species are also found in India and Sri Lanka.

They also have been introduced to Hawaii, California, and Florida, and often are kept as household pets. These are popular pets indeed.

These are so awesome lizards, and you will often be fascinated by looking at its body colour and appearance.

Chameleons can shoot out their tongues at alarming speeds, use their tails as extra limbs, and can even see in two different directions at once. It’s interesting, right?

6 detailed reasons to answer why chameleon is a lizard

1. They are reptiles

Yes, chameleons are all reptiles and part of the Iguana suborder. They lay eggs that don’t have any hard shells like most other reptiles.

Female chameleons do not need a mate to lay eggs and will lay unfertilized eggs every three to six months.

They are all ectothermic or cold-blooded, which means that they cannot control their own body temperature. These are all terrestrial and mostly live on trees.

Their body is clearly divisible into head, neck, trunk, and tail. And moreover, the body epidermis is highly covered with horny scales or scutes.

Their skin is dry and cornified, while their skin glands are absent.

2. They belong to Chamaeleonidae family

Chameleon, the primary group of arboreal (tree-dwelling) lizards species that are best known for their ability to change the body color to camouflage.

The Family Chamaeleonidae was divided into two subfamilies, Brookesiinae and Chamaeleoninae, by Klaver and Bohme in 1986.

This family of lizards includes many types of chameleons with some rare and exotic species as well.

By classification, there are more than 202 different species of chameleons in the world known to date.

The species belonging to Chamaeleonidae includes most arboreal lizards that are oviparous (egg-laying) but a few are viviparous (give birth to young ones) as well.

3. They have a sticky tongue

The sticky tongue of the chameleons is a very useful nature’s gift to them. Their tongue like other lizards has the ability to react super-fast and catch its prey.

Their tongue could go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in the hundredth part of a second. That’s so rapid that it only takes about 20 milliseconds to catch a cricket and bring it in its mouth.

Like other lizards, the chameleon’s tongue is made up of the sticky pad at the end. It is equipped with many layers of accelerator muscles which helps it to launch towards the prey.

Their retractor muscles help the chameleon to capture and successfully bring prey into the mouth over a varied distance with a ballistic force

In the resting state, it remains coiled. When the accelerator muscles contract, the tongue is launched off the bone again with a ballistic force.

4. Their body has many horny epidermal scales

The scales over the body of the chameleon are reduced to minute tubercules. There is a row of pointed scales along the body and tail.

Actually, the Chameleons have four layers of skin: the outer protective layer, called the epidermis; the chromatophore layer which contains yellow and red pigments; the melanophore layer which has the dark pigment melanin and can create brown and black colors or reflect blue; and the nether layer which only reflects white.

Their outer protective layer contains the pointed scales as a protection tool.

You can spot orange, yellow, red, blue, or green color of those bumpy scales and fringe on their bodies.

5. They have movable quadrate bone

The Quadrate bone gives the ability to the chameleons to wide open its jaws. The quadrate bone is a skull bone in most reptiles and birds that help it intake large prey.

In most tetrapods, the quadrate bone connects to the quadratojugal and squamosal bones in the skull and forms the upper part of the jaw joint.

The distinctive features of the jaw apparatus in chameleons due to the presence of quadrate bone in its jaw has emerged as adaptations for the refinement of the mechanism of prey capture by the tongue.

6. They have 4 limbs, movable eyelids, a short neck, and a long tail

Yes, the chameleons have four limbs that are: a pair of forelimb, and a pair of hindlimbs. In some species, they have four to five independently moving digits of each limb.

Whereas in other species, chameleons have limbs that consist of two fleshy pads, with one pad containing three digits fused together, while the other has two digits fused together.

The eyelids of chameleons are the same scaly type as that of the whole body. The eyelids remain fused together with the eyeball leaving a small opening just in front of the lens to see things. The eyelids can also change color.

Just like other lizards, their neck is short as well. The neck bone consists of the vertebrae that connect the supraoccipital bone of the skull with the pectoral girdle.

Yes, like other lizards chameleons do have a long tail but, this tail has a unique ability. Chameleons also use their long tail when moving in the trees to grab a branch and secure their position to accomplish balance when necessary.


Classification of Chameleon

  1. Kingdom: Animal Kingdom
  2. Phylum: Chordata
  3. Sub-Phylum: Vertebrata
  4. Super-Class: Gnathostomata
  5. Class: Reptilia
  6. Order: Squamata
  7. Sub-order: Lacertilia
  8. Family: Chamaeleonidae
  9. Sub-family: Chamaeleonidae
  10. Genus: Chamaeleo
  11. Species: There are over 200 species. Some of the famous ones are Chamaeleo affinis, Chamaeleo anchietae, Chamaeleo balebicornutus, Chamaeleo brevicornis, etc.

Is there any difference between chameleons and other lizards?

Yes, there are many differences between chameleons and other lizards. There are a lot of differences between other scaly lizards and chameleons that literally make them different.

Let’s know some of the most well-seen differences for you to identify:

1. Many lizards like the chameleons and the anoles can change their body color. Kill you misconception and learn that the chameleons are not only one, but these colorful lizards are known as one of the few reptilian animals that can change their skin color.

2. Many species of lizards can change their skin colors, but it is also to be noted that the chameleons are the only species that show the widest range of changing colors amongst the other color-changing lizards.

3. Most lizards have 4 limbs with separate and independently moveable four or five digits, and this is also the case with only a few species of chameleons. A majority of the chameleons contain each of its limbs having two pads, with one pad containing three digits that are fused together, while the other has two fused digits.

4. Unlike other lizards that change their skin colors to camouflage by blending into the environment, chameleons don’t just change colors to camouflage but also in order to communicate (for mating, meeting, etc.) or regulate their body temperature (to keep it cool, warm, etc).

5. Unlike other lizards, chameleons can’t regrow their tails. It has lost its power of regeneration during evolution and so a chameleon can’t regenerate its tail if it’s cut off.

6. Unlike other lizards that walk or grasp their substrate while moving, chameleons have hands and feet with large toes that help them cling to the tree branches.

7. Their eyes can move independently of each other, enabling them to look in two different directions at once. A majority of the lizards lack this type of ability.

8. Unlike other lizards that have a nictitating membrane to cover their eyes, chameleons have eyelids that are of the same scaly type as that of the whole body skin. The eyelids remain fused together with the eyeball leaving a small opening just in front of the lens to see things. The eyelids can also change color.

9. Lizards don’t have earflaps and instead, they have visible ear openings to catch the sound, and their eardrums are just located below the surface of their skin. Whereas, chameleons do not have an outer or a middle ear, so there is neither an ear-opening nor an eardrum but they can detect sound frequencies in the range of 200–600 Hz very easily.

10. Unlike most of the other male lizards, male chameleons have hooded heads called casque that helps them collect water in the form of dew and to also impress their female mates. This casque is a decorative growth on their head that looks like a party-colorful hat. Other lizards that belong to the Corytophanidae (Helmet Lizards) family of Squamata also contains casque.


Are chameleons dangerous? Are they poisonous?

Yes, chameleons are dangerous (but not that too much) as they can bite you if they feel disturbed or at stress. Their bite can be slightly painful.

If in case you provoke the animal they will surely bite you. Make sure to take care while you hold and handle a chameleon.

The worst thing that may happen is they bite, but this is non-toxic and usually avoidable.

And don’t make them feel frightened or else they may think that they are in danger. And, if they think so they will be forced to bite you, that’s their natural reaction to the stress.

Wild chameleons can be dangerous but, pet-ones are very little dangerous. Chameleons present very little danger to humans and are generally a low-risk pet.

They are normally quite peaceful and relaxing animals, and Chameleon bites are quite rare. They are slightly painful but unlikely to draw blood, though in rare cases it may lead to bleed if a wild and large one bites you.

Another thing you must note that, if a chameleon bites, you won’t die. It’s because chameleons are neither venomous nor poisonous.

Their bite will just give you a little pain nothing else and if you still fear that little pain, better don’t touch them.

Often many people will think that chameleons may also have poison glands in their skin, but as a matter of fact, their skin is dry and covered with scales with no skin glands at all.

The quote “Everything that looks colorful isn’t always good” states to be wrong here in the case of chameleons as they don’t have any poison glands hiding beneath their skin but they are colorful too.

So, you can touch them but be careful to be safe from getting bitten by them.

That’s it, folks!

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