Mediterranean chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)

Also known as: common chameleon, European chameleon
  
Spanish: Camaleón Común
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassReptilia
OrderSquamata
FamilyChamaeleonidae
GenusChamaeleo (1)
SizeSnout-vent length: 8.5 - 16 cm (2)
Weightc. 35 g (3)
Top facts

The Mediterranean chameleon is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (4).

Due to its amazing ability to change colour, the Mediterranean chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) can vary from bright green to dull brown (2), tan or grey (5). Females may also display yellow, orange or green spots during the mating season (6), and are generally slightly heavier than the males (3). Whatever its background colour, the Mediterranean chameleon generally has two light stripes along each side of its body, with the stripes often being broken into a series of dashes or spots (5).

Like other chameleons, the Mediterranean chameleon is well known for its long, sticky tongue which, when extended, can be twice the length of the body. Chameleons have very sharp eyesight and each eyeball is able to move independently of the other. The Mediterranean chameleon is well adapted to living in bushes and trees, with strong feet to hold firmly onto branches and a long, prehensile tail (3).

The Mediterranean chameleon has a light crest of scales along its throat, and a crest of small, serrated scales along its back (5).

The Mediterranean chameleon’s range is the broadest of all chameleon species (7), extending from northern Africa to southwest Asia and southern Europe (1) (7) (8). Although not originally native there, this species has also been introduced to parts of Italy, Portugal, Spain and the Canary Islands (1) (8).

The Mediterranean chameleon is found in a variety of habitats including open pine woodland, shrubland, plantations, gardens and orchards (1). It spends the majority of its time in trees or bushes, preferring dense cover for camouflage (9)(10). However, this habit changes during the mating season when males move to the ground to find a mate and females descend to a lower level of vegetation (9).

Differences have been found in the habitat use of different age groups of Mediterranean chameleons, with juveniles occupying low grasses instead of bushes and trees (3).

Mating in the Mediterranean chameleon takes place in late summer (9), from around July to September (3) (6) (11). At this time, males will become aggressive if fighting over a female with another male or protecting their territory (12). Larger females are preferred as they tend to produce more eggs and will be guarded for longer and with more intensity by the males (11).

As in other Chamaeleo species, both male and female Mediterranean chameleons become sexually mature within one year and the females will produce one clutch of eggs per year (6) (8) (11). From late summer to early autumn, females descend to the ground to bury their eggs in soil (9), producing between 5 and 45 eggs per clutch. The eggs are then incubated underground for 10 to 12 months (1) (3) (10), with the newly hatched chameleons appearing from August to November of the following year (6) (11).

The Mediterranean chameleon is active during the day (1) (3), and its diet consists mainly of arthropods including grasshoppers, flies, bees, wasps, and ants (9). It has also been known to consume spiders and some fruit (3). Like other chameleons, the Mediterranean chameleon is slow-moving and is a ‘sit-and-wait’ predator that captures prey with its long, sticky tongue when prey comes within reach (3) (9). Bizarrely adults will eat juveniles and as a result young chameleons will flee or attempt to hide themselves when encountering an adult (3).

The Mediterranean chameleon is preyed upon by snakes and domestic cats. During encounters with a predator, the chameleon will freeze in its position, display an aggressive defence posture, flee quickly for cover or drop to the ground to escape (2). It may also attempt to camouflage itself to mimic the colour of its surroundings (2) (3) (13).

Additionally, the Mediterranean chameleon may change its colouration to help regulate its temperature, to signal dominance among males and to show sexual receptivity in females (3) (6). After a female Mediterranean chameleon has mated, she develops a black background colour with blue and yellow spots and performs an aggressive ‘dance’ in front of any approaching males. This distinctive colouration and behaviour is thought to signal to the males that she is no longer receptive (6).

Although the Mediterranean chameleon is not currently considered to be at risk of extinction (1), it still faces threats from accidental deaths on roads, forest fires, predation by domestic animals and nest loss due to ploughing (1) (10). It is also experiencing habitat loss due to the expansion of urban areas, farming land and tourist facilities (1) (10). Additionally, the Mediterranean chameleon is caught for the international pet market, sometimes illegally (1).

Various measures to help conserve the Mediterranean chameleon exist in some countries. For example, barriers have been set up on several roads in Spain to prevent road mortalities. Parts of this species' range are also included in protected areas (1).

In addition, the Mediterranean chameleon is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that any international trade in this species should be carefully controlled (4). It is also protected under Annex II of the Bern Convention, which aims to conserve the chameleon and its habitat (1) (14).

Further recommended conservation measures for the Mediterranean chameleon include controlling the use of insecticides that can kill or reduce its insect prey, and protecting certain cultivated areas to provide it with safe nesting sites (1).

Find out more about the Mediterranean chameleon:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (February, 2013)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. Cuadrado, M., Martín, J. and López, P. (2001) Camouflage and escape decisions in the common chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 72: 547-554.
  3. Keren-Rotem, T., Bouskila, A. and Geffen, E. (2006) Ontogenetic habitat shift and risk of cannibalism in the common chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon). Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology, 59: 723-731.
  4. CITES (February, 2013)
    http://www.cites.org/
  5. Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, P.P. (1995) Chameleons: Everything about Selection, Care, Nutrition, Diseases, Breeding, and Behavior. Barron’s Educational Series, Inc., New York.
  6. Cuadrado, M. (1998) The use of yellow spot colors as a sexual receptivity signal in females of Chamaeleo chamaeleon. Herpetologica, 54(3): 395-402.
  7. Dimaki, M., Valakos, E.D. and Legakis, A. (2000) Variation in body temperatures of the African chameleon Chamaeleo africanus Laurenti, 1768 and the common chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon (Linnaeus, 1758). Belgian Journal of Zoology, 130: 87-91.
  8. The Reptile Database (February, 2013)
    http://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/search.php
  9. Pleguezuelos, J.M., Poveda, J.C., Monterrubio, R. and Ontiveros, D. (1999) Feeding habits of the common chameleon, Chamaeleo chamaeleon (Linnaeus, 1758) in the southeastern Iberian Peninsula. Israel Journal of Zoology, 45: 267-276.
  10. Hódar, J.A., Pleguezuelos, J.M. and Poveda, J.C. (2000) Habitat selection of the common chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) (L.) in an area under development in southern Spain: implications for conservation. Biological Conservation, 94: 63-68.
  11. Cuadrado, M. (1998) The influence of female size on the extent and intensity of mate guarding by males in Chamaeleo chamaeleon. Journal of Zoology, 246(3): 351-358.
  12. Cuadrado, M. (2001) Mate guarding and social mating system in male common chameleons (Chamaeleo chamaeleon). Journal of Zoology, 255(4): 425-435.
  13. Stuart-Fox, D. and Moussalli, A. (2009) Camouflage, communication and thermoregulation: lessons from colour changing organisms. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences, 364: 463-470.
  14. Council of Europe: Bern Convention (February, 2013)
    http://conventions.coe.int/Treaty/EN/Treaties/Html/104.htm