What Does a Chameleon’s Color Actually Mean? (Its not what you think)
Ever wondered what a Chameleon's colors mean (Click here for my best Chameleon Guide, on Amazon)? Most people assume they blend to match their environment, in this article you will find out why that is not necessarily true and more about this intriguing lizard.
What Does a Chameleon's Color Change Actually Mean? The color-changing skin of the chameleon is NOT meant as a camouflage against predators. For chameleons, their color changing is a form of communication and a form of adaptation to their environment.
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With that being said, what things can really trigger thier color change? Lets understand exactly what causes this, please read on.
Color Changing Triggers
Mood. Chameleons use their coloring to indicate their moods. Bright blue coloring with red spots can signify male aggression toward a potential sexual rival. Males and females change their coloring to indicate whether they are "single and looking" or not. Female chameleons show different patterns to display whether or not they are sexually available.
Temperature. Chameleons also change their color to soak up as many sun rays as possible. During cooler times of the day, their skin will become dark to absorb more of the heat from the sun. During hotter times of the day, their skin can become lighter to reflect more sunlight, thus keeping them cooler.
Stress levels. Chameleons indicate their stress levels both to themselves and to each other by changing their color.
Communication. Female chameleons change their colors to show a row of large white spots when they are pregnant. Their pregnancy is called "gravid". This warns male chameleons to stay away during their pregnancy.
What is Deemed as a Chameleon's Neutral Color?
You can observe a chameleon's "true color" the most when it is sleeping. Because their skin color change is NOT accomplished by moving around pigmentation, there is no "baseline" color for them.
Instead, their skin has a crystallization effect which is regrouped to form different colors, patterns, and interesting details.
This is essentially what happens to a chameleon's skin if it is not being specifically focused to reflect certain colors. The foundation colors of specific types of chameleons can be slightly varied, such as a pale green for the veiled chameleon and a light tan for the panther chameleon.
What is an Aggressive Color?
Chameleons change their colors fast when they want to signal aggression to an opponent, especially to a rival during mating season.
They flatten their bodies vertically, making the sides of their bodies very large, and they display the colors of aggression, sometimes green and yellow with black outlines and sometimes blue and red with black outlines and blotches, depending on the species of chameleon.
These intense color changes mean aggression and warn off the opponent. However, just like with other species, you can usually tell who is going to win in a fight before it even begins. The chameleons with the fastest changing head colors were found to be the most likely winner against a rival.
What Color indicates Mating Time?
Chameleons are at their most colorful when the males are mating with or seeking to attract the females. Male mating colors are brightly garish and richly striped.
These colors can be anything from bright blue-green to a green and red and black and white striped appearance to even a yellow and red striped background.
Panther chameleons are the species which produce the most flamboyant colors when mating and also produce the most aggressive colors when warning off a sexual rival.
Chameleon Basic Facts?
The veiled chameleon's scientific name is "Chamaeleo calyptratus". The panther chameleon's scientific name is "Furcifer pardalis".
The veiled chameleon and the panther chameleon are the most colorful and the most common pets in households. There are also three varieties of pygmy chameleons which have colors ranging from black to brown to gray and are therefore not kept as pets very often.
What Other Names do Chameleons Have?
Chameleons are also known as Old World Lizards, because of their ancient roots and their direct evolutionary ties to prehistoric reptiles and even have some tenuous DNA which is connected to dinosaurs, like the stegosaurus.
The name "chameleon" is from a compound of Greek words meaning "on the ground" and "lion". Their long, fast-moving tongues are often twice the length of their bodies (without the tail) and their eyes move independently from one another.
Something interesting that we'll review a little later is the fact that chameleon's see in both colored light and ultraviolet light. This means that those aggressive stripes you noticed on rival males would perhaps be even more distinctive and threatening to appear through their ultraviolet lens.
Where is a Chameleon's Natural Habitat?
Chameleons come from a variety of places, but most of the 89 species come from Madagascar, as well as from southern Africa. There are a couple of species which live in Asia, one in India and one in Sri Lanka. There is also a European chameleon which lives in northern Africa and southern Spain.
Their habitats vary widely from tropical, humid rainforests to dry desert lands. They sometimes live in open grassland, but most species live in trees.
It is important to find out the particular variety of chameleon that you have or that you will get for a pet. Different varieties have different tolerances.
How Big is a Chameleon?
The most popular chameleons to have as pets, the veiled chameleon and the panther chameleon, range from 35 to 60 cm in length.
How Long do Chameleons Usually Live? (What is Their Lifespan?)
All chameleons have an average lifespan for 5 years. Female panther chameleons who give birth have an average lifespan of 2 to 4 years. Giving birth seems to drop one to three years off of their total lifespan.
The bearded pygmy chameleon and the spectral pygmy chameleon have a lifespan of 3 to 5 years.
What if you want to have a long-living chameleon? For that, you will need to choose a Jackson's chameleon (5 to 10 years) or a Usambara pygmy pitted chameleon (5 to 11 years). Provided that you take extra special care of your pets and learn all about how to read them and provide for them, there is a strong likelihood of these particular pets lasting toward the end of their predicted lifespan.
That is pretty incredible and pretty special for a reptile. Reptiles of any variety don't usually live that long.
What is the Ideal Housing for a Chameleon?
Because chameleons live in a wide variety of habitats, you will need to provide plenty of stimulation for your pet chameleon. This means that it requires a fairly elaborate setup in order to be stimulated in all possible ways and in order to feel comfortable at all times of the day.
This means a wide variety of materials:
- Large, tall terrarium
- Correct lighting for your chameleon (both regular and ultraviolet is recommended since they can see in ultraviolet light)
- Correct humidity (you will need all of the correct pieces of apparatus to create this in your terrarium)
- Extra Heating (to keep your reptile warm)
- Drip Water Supply (that drips onto the leaves or fake leaves of its environment)
- Food bowl of mealworms and other insects
- Sprayer or mister for low-humidity environments (you don't want your chameleon drying out)
- A substrate of any type (newspaper, wood shavings, sand, etc.)
- Plenty of branches (fake or real) with leaves and good hiding places for your chameleon to hang from or roam around on
According to Chameleon Care, you are able to keep a cage-free chameleon on a living Ficus tree, providing there are no other pets (like cats or dogs) which can endanger it and providing the tree receives regular misting and/or spraying so that both tree and chameleon get watered.
Would My Pet Chameleon Benefit from a Hide Box?
Yes, he would. Chameleons love to hide and just hang out. However, they prefer to hang out on nice, firm branches, so make sure that he also has that available to him, as well.
A hide box would be helpful, but your chameleon won't just curl up in it as a snake would. Instead, make it dark with branches covering it so that your chameleon can hang down into it if he wants to.
Another option is to put the box at an angle so that it is away from the light and can provide a source of cool shade for your little buddy.
What is the Ideal Substrate for them?
Chameleons really are not picky about their substrate. You can put just about anything at the bottom of their terrariums, such as colored sand, wood shavings, shredded newspaper.
However, whatever you use should be easy to clean up and replace (so maybe colored sand would be difficult to change) along with his waste.
If you have a free-range chameleon who lives on a Ficus tree, you may find that a large pot with good potting soil is enough for you and your new pet. He'll live in the tree and any waste will simply be turned into mulch and plant food.
What Lighting and Heating do Chameleons Require?
You will need two sources of light and heat:
First, you will need a Fluorescent UVB light. Make sure that it is outside of the terrarium so that your little friend cannot get too close to it and get burned.
This will provide the main light for your pet. Chameleons see both the visible and the ultraviolet spectrums of light, so your little buddy will have plenty to look at his new place.
Second, you will need a nice, warm basking lamp. Place this off to one side of the terrarium and lower down, so that your chameleon can experience different gradients of heat and light as he moves around the environment.
Again, the more variety your chameleon has in his or her environment, the more active she will be. When your chameleon is active and in a good mood, she will change colors more often and more quickly, display bolder colors, and generally be happier and more comfortable.
What are their Water Requirements?
Chameleons generally obtain water by drinking it off of the dew from plants and leaves. You will want to mist and spray the leaves of your real or fake branches in your chameleon's habitat every single day.
In addition to this, there should be a water supply that is of a dripping variety.
Keep your basking heat lamp on the side of the terrarium away from the dripping water so that the heat does not evaporate the water droplets before our chameleon has a chance to get to them.
As we noted in Question 10 above, your chameleon's habitat must be very involved and quite varied in nature, having cool areas and hot areas, having humid areas and dryer areas, and having both water and food. Plenty of leaves and branches are also required for hanging out and enjoying himself.
How often should you clean out your Chameleon's Housing?
Clean out the housing as needed. This may be as often as once a week or as infrequently as once or twice a month. It all depends on how large your chameleon is, how large the terrarium is, and how well they are feeding at that particular time.
Be sure and use a substrate that is easily removed and replaced. Since chameleons are not picky about their substrate, shredded and wadded up newspapers is a good, sustainable option.
If the waste smell is noticeable, clean our their housing right away. The basking heat lamp will warm things up and you will notice right away if something needs to be tended to immediately.
Are there any known health issues they may get?
Chameleons are most prone to stress. They are easily stressed out. You can easily tell just how stressed out your pet is by their coloring and their choice to change color a lot.
The older a chameleon gets, the more aggressive they will become and will change color a lot, just for the fun of it. However, when they are stressed out, they will become black striped. Look for stripes to see if your chameleon feels aggressive or stressed.
If you have a young chameleon, know that five months is about the age of adulthood. Younger chameleons can only change between black, brown and white. At the age of adulthood, five months or so, they begin the ability to change color.
If, however, your chameleon is a full-blown adult and is stubbornly staying brown or black, that means that it is stressed. Chameleons are very tricky and fickle creatures.
That is why it is so important to provide a large variety of heat and light sources in their terrarium at all times. If they are unable to regulate their own body temperature, they become moody and temperamental quite easily.
The more comfortable your chameleon is, the more he or she will stay colorful if only a solid green or red.
When you go to pick up or handle your chameleon, notice how much he changes color. If he becomes black and green striped in color, chances are he is trying to intimidate you.
Are they a good pet for beginners?
No, chameleons require a lot of focused attention. You cannot simply leave them to their own devices for days on end like you could a cat or an outside dog. Beginner reptile owners should start with something less involved, like an easy-care lizard or a small ball python snake.
When you visit the pet store, look around at all of the reptile options.
If you don't fancy feeding your reptile baby mice, then maybe a nice, small lizard will suit your fancy. Lizards eat insects and you can get a nice lizard that is easy and fun to handle and which also requires easy care and can be looked at often.
Can you hold a chameleon? How often can you handle them? It depends. Chameleons are highly temperamental by nature and get stressed out easily. If you get a young chameleon and regularly handle him several times a week, he may grow acclimated to your sight and smell and not be stressed out anymore.
You will have to keep up regular contact with him in order to keep him acclimated to you, however. If you go a few weeks without handling him, he may get very stressed out when you get him out again.
In addition to becoming black and white striped in coloring when they are stressed, chameleons also puff out their throats, hiss, and raise one of their legs when they are feeling threatened by someone.
What is a Veiled Chameleon? A veiled chameleon is simply one of the largest and most brightly colored chameleons available. It is one of the top choices for chameleon pets because, like the panther chameleon, it changes to a wide variety of colors and be very interesting to look at.
It is native to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, so our Saudi friends know a lot about it, as well, in addition to also keeping it as a pet.
Because veiled chameleons are known to be more aggressive in nature (not dangerous to humans, but more openly hissing and such), they are best kept alone or in mating pairs.
If you have ever wanted to start a chameleon mating franchise, go with the veiled chameleon. You will, however, have to keep individual terrariums for each specific couple.
The "veil" part of the veiled chameleon is a type of funnel or headpiece which it uses to collect dripping water from leaves.
Are Chameleons Poisonous? No, there are no species of venomous or poisonous chameleons. They are incredibly safe to own. They are simply very high maintenance. All chameleons are non-poisonous and non-venomous and safe to own, touch, hold and handle.
Can My Kids Handle Our Pet Chameleons? Are they safe for children to hold? Take Caution! With all reptiles and amphibians, they have a light skin coating of salmonella, which can be harmful to humans.
Have your kids wash their hands with soap and water both before and after handling your pet chameleon.
Why wash their hands before? This is so that bacteria from humans does not transfer to the reptile and get it sick. All snake, frog and reptile owners must wash their hands both before and after handling their amphibians and reptiles because of human bacteria transference and salmonella transference.
How much soap and water should I use? The regular amount, but soap and rinse up to your elbows, since you will be holding your pet in your arms, not just your hands.
22. What if My Pet Chameleon Doesn't Change into All the Colors?
Only certain varieties of chameleon have the ability to even extend their color range beyond black, brown and white. The panther chameleon is the most colorful and the most versatile of all of the chameleons, and it also happens to be one of the two largest varieties and a common household pet.
It turns purple, pink, red, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, and blue. It is simply magnificent to look at.
Veiled chameleons and Jackson's chameleons have the ability to extend their color range out to green and sometimes red or blue. However, pink, purple and orange may be more difficult for them.
What is the Cheapest Chameleon to Buy? The Veiled Chameleon. There was a time when they were very difficult to catch and breed, so they are very expensive to get.
Chameleons are wonderful to look at. They will dazzle you with their brilliant colors and they will make you feel in awe of the amazing changes in nature.
Did you enjoy learning about chameleons? Do you own a chameleon yourself or are you planning on getting one in the near future?