Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)

GenusFurcifer (1)
SizeMale length: up to 23 cm (2)
Female length: up to 13.5 cm (2)

The panther chameleon is listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).

Exhibiting some of the most spectacular colour variations of all chameleons, the large-bodied panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) is highly sought after by reptile keepers (2) (3). Interestingly, populations from different locations within this species’ range each have a particular colouration and patterning, which is generally most pronounced during courtship or defensive displays. Male panther chameleons from the Madagascan island of Nosy Be, for example, have uniform striking blue-green, emerald-green or turquoise bodies, whereas males from the north-west coast are vivid pink, with a yellowish white stripe along the flanks, a colour form known as “the pink panther.” Other colours found in the males may include orange, red and dark green, with a hugely variable patterning of coloured bands, stripes and spots, especially around the head and eyes.

By contrast, female panther chameleons are mostly dull, uniform grey, brown or faint green, except during breeding, when receptive females become pale or vivid orange to pink, later changing to black, with bright orange or pink vertical bars when gravid. Like many other chameleon species, the panther chameleon’s head extends at the rear into a raised bony prominence known as a “casque” (3).

Endemic to Madagascar, the panther chameleon is found in coastal regions and islands of central-eastern, north-eastern, northern and north-western Madagascar (2) (3). Introduced populations are also found on the islands of Reunion and Mauritius, around 500 kilometres east of Madagascar (3) (4).

The panther chameleon mainly inhabits lowland, humid forest (2).

An invertebrate-feeding specialist, the panther chameleon moves slowly and stealthily through vegetation, its fused, opposing digits providing a pincer-like grip, while its independently-moving eyes scan the surroundings. Once prey has been sighted it is caught by means of the panther chameleon's remarkable, extensile tongue. The contraction of special muscles within the tongue rapidly propels it towards the prey, which is snared by a combination of the tongue's sticky mucous coating and a vacuum created by muscles in the tip (5).

While most panther chameleons breed during the spring and summer (October to March), populations found in more climatically stable regions along the west coast may breed all year round. The mature male panther chameleon establishes a territory, which is defended from other males, and offers a site where courtship can take place. When a female is encountered exhibiting receptive colouration, the male commences courtship behaviour, which includes an increase in colour intensity and nodding of the head. Over a period of minutes to days after mating, the female acquires the striking, non-receptive colouration, and will make threat displays consisting of opening the mouth wide and rocking, to any courting males that approach (3).

At the end of the two to three week gestation period, the female digs a burrow (3) into which a clutch of 16 to 24 eggs is laid and covered over with soil (2). The eggs take between six and twelve months to hatch, and the newborns then clamber to the surface. Sexual maturity is reached after around five months (3), and the maximum lifespan in the wild is two years (2).

Extremely popular in the pet trade, exported panther chameleons accounted for almost eight percent of total exports of chameleon species to the US from 1977 to 2001 (4). Prior to the imposing of stricter trade quotas, 15,000 panther chameleons per year were being taken from the wild (2), a level of exploitation which was a significant cause for concern given this species’ restricted range (2) (4). Fortunately, however, current export levels are much lower, and with relatively abundant wild populations, there is little risk to this species at present (1) (2).

The panther chameleon is listed on Appendix II of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and any international trade in this species is therefore strictly controlled and regulated by annual maximum export quotas (1). Although exports in this species have previously been alarmingly high, since 1999 the maximum export quota has been set at 2,000 individuals per year, which appears to be sustainable (1) (2).

Aside from trade, a major threat to all Madagascan wildlife is the ongoing habitat loss and degradation occurring throughout Madagascar (6). While the panther chameleon seems to be relatively resistant to this problem, it would nevertheless benefit from management measures that ensure the preservation of tracts of forest alongside roads and rivers (2).

Find out more about conservation in Madagascar:

Authenticated (07/03/11) by Dr Richard K.B. Jenkins, Madagasikara Voakajy and Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent.

  1. CITES (March, 2009)
  2. Andreone, F., Guarino, F.M. and Randrianirina, J.E. (2005) Life history traits, age profile, and conservation of the panther chameleon, Furcifer pardalis (Cuvier 1829), at Nosy Be, NW Madagascar. Tropical Zoology, 18: 209-225.
  3. AdCham (March, 2009)
  4. Carpenter, A.I., Rowcliffe, J.M. and Watkinson, A.R. (2004) The dynamics of global trade in chameleons. Biological Conservation, 120: 291 - 301.
  5. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptile and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Conservation International - Madagascar and the Indian Ocean Islands (March, 2009)