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The Chameleon (Chamaeleonidae)

The chameleon is a family of lizard-like reptiles that are most well known for their ability to quickly change color. This can be seen in a variety of media, such as Disney's Tangled, Randall from Monsters Inc, and the Lizalfos from Zelda: Breath of the Wild. But why do they do this? Is it really for Camouflage? Also, how does their body change so quickly? Let's hit the books and find out!

Physical Description and Behavior

These reptiles have over 150 species to their name, which all come in a range of sizes from 1 inch to 26 inches. They are usually a brighter green, allowing them to blend into the grass and leaves.

Chameleons may look similar to other reptiles at first glance, but it has a lot that helps them to stand out from the crowd. For instance, they have zygodactylous feet (feet in which the toes are fused into sets of 2 or 3), independently moving eyes, a long projectile tongue, and even vestigial venom glands that produce only trace amounts of venom.

Fun fact: Chameleons can change their skin to many different shades, colors, and even patterns. This happens through a process known as metachrosis. This is where pigment granules (melanophore cells) in cells can become concentrated or diluted to alter the color. The colors are usually green, yellow, darker browns, or a light cream color, and this change is connected to their autonomic system.

The colors change as a result of light, temperature, or even the feelings of the chameleon, such as fear. These colors can be extremely vivid and striking, including pinks, bright or deep blues, red, green, and even purple and yellow. Despite what you may have heard, this is not to help them blend into their surroundings. It is actually to ward off predators and even to find a mate.

Habitat and Location

Chameleons live in a variety of habitats, ranging from rainforests to deserts and steppes. Almost 2/3rds of all of the species of chameleon live in Madagascar. The rest live in Southern Africa, with very few living in Northern Africa or anywhere else. Some species have been introduced to India, Hawaii, and a couple of other states.

At least 10 species of chameleon is at risk of extinction, with at least 3 at critical risk. This is due to slash and burn agriculture, and other practices that destroy their native habitat.

Learn more about these reptiles by watching the video below:

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