types of chameleon

27 Types of Chameleons: Species, Facts and Photos

Chameleons are an exceptional group of reptiles in the wild, known not only for their bright colors but also for their independent eyes and projectile tongues. A vast spectrum of chameleon types includes the gigantic Parson's chameleon and the minute nano-chameleon. The diversity in their size, color, and habitat is impressive. 

Examining these creatures offers insight into their evolutionary adaptability and survival. Continue reading to deepen your understanding of these lizards.

Chameleon Classification

Chameleons belong to the Reptilia class, falling under the Squamata order and the Iguania suborder, and represent a unique group of 202 Old World lizard species6.

Chameleons demonstrate an extensive geographical range, divided into the two subfamilies of Chamaeleoninae (10 genera) and Brookesiinae (2 genera). 

They inhabit various habitats, including lowland and mountain forests, shrublands, and savannas. While some species thrive in trees and bushes, others, like the genus Brookesia, navigate the ground. 

They are primarily scattered from sub-Saharan Africa to Madagascar, with communities in Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia to the Americas. 

Sadly, habitat loss threatens many chameleons, leading to declining numbers. Additionally, chameleons are kept in homes, with imports typically from Madagascar, Tanzania, and Togo. Species such as Senegal, Veiled, Jackson's, and the Panther chameleon are the most common pet chameleons7.

In the following sections, We discuss a few well-known species for each genus.

Related Read: Chameleon Facts.

27 Types of Chameleon Species

1. Senegal Chameleon (Chamaeleo senegalensis)

senegal chameleon
Photo by Farid AMADOU BAHLEMAN on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Senegal chameleon, native to West Africa, dons a distinctive olive-brown hue, measuring 7.8 - 11.8 inches, with males often smaller. 

This species' habitat spans countries such as Senegal, Mali, Nigeria, and Cameroon, typically retreating to the comfort of moist savannas. 

Even though the extensive range and indeterminate population size of Senegal Chameleons categorize them as a species of "Least Concern," they still face potential perils from the pet trade.

2. Graceful Chameleon (Chamaeleo gracilis)

Graceful Chameleon
Photo by Dotun55 on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Graceful Chameleon exhibits distinct physical attributes: often sporting shades of green, yellow, or brown, it's highlighted by a green lateral stripe. This diurnal reptile typically measures a foot long but is capable of extending up to 15 inches. 

Its habitation extends across sub-Saharan Africa, from as far west as Senegal, reaching south to Angola and east to Ethiopia. Adapting to various ecosystems, it primarily dwells in forests, yet it's frequently found in bushy areas near plantations or within savanna landscapes.

3. Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus)

Veiled Chameleon
Photo by William Warby on Flickr licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Commonly referred to as the Cone-head or Yemen chameleon, the Veiled chameleon is an arboreal species native to the southwestern Arabian Peninsula's semi-arid tropical climate. 

Males can reach up to 24 inches, while females grow up to 14 inches. In both genders, a characteristic casque on their head enlarges over time. Newborns exhibit pastel green skin, which matures into vibrant color patterns, with males developing brighter hues. 

The species' diet is primarily insect-based, though it also consumes plant matter, potentially to stay hydrated in dry seasons. While they are one of the best pet chameleon species, the Veiled chameleons live longer than other relatives in captivity but still need careful attention. 

Unfortunately, their fame and adaptability led to a rise in invasive populations in places like Hawaii and Florida.

4. Knysna Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion damaranum)

Knysna Dwarf Chameleon
Photo by Devi Stuart-Fox and Adnan Moussalli on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 (Cropped from original).

The Knysna dwarf chameleon, a member of the "slow-footed" Bradypodion genus, is endemic to South Africa. Residing along forested slopes of the Outeniqua and Tsitsikamma mountains, this species exhibits restricted geographical spread. 

Distinguishing physical features include a prominent casque and vibrant green to bluish skin, accented with hues of purple, yellow, and pink. 

5. Natal Midlands Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion thamnobates)

Natal Midlands Dwarf Chameleon
Photo by Andrew on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Natal Midlands Dwarf Chameleon, a mere 3 inches in length, dons a yellow head crest and a white throat.  Males sport short orange stripes and red-spotted eyelids, while females, brown, display smaller helmet-like protrusions. 

These dwarf chameleons are endemic to South Africa's KwaZulu-Natal region. However, habitat disruption and anthropogenic pressure have led to a notably limited and fragmented distribution. Coupled with poor protection measures, these factors contribute to its endangered status.

6. Cape Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion pumilum)

Cape Dwarf Chameleon
Photo by Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Cape Dwarf chameleon, indigenous to Cape Town and its adjacent regions, reaches about 6 inches, with similar sizes in both genders. 

This ovoviviparous species, upon birth, immediately shed a soft egg-like membrane, resulting in a 0.8-inch long, dull-colored young chameleon. As adults, their color and saturation range significantly, with some showcasing outstanding vibrancy. 

Rising temperatures due to global warming could affect the Cape Dwarf chameleon's abilities, potentially increasing running speed but decreasing bite and grip strength4.

However, their adaptability suggests they'll likely endure, benefiting in certain ways from these climate changes.

7. Marshall's Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon marshalli)

The Marshall's Pygmy Chameleon, also known as Marshall's leaf chameleon, Marshall's dwarf chameleon, or Marshall's stumptail chameleon, is a distinctive species. Standing between 1.3-3.0 inches, with females tending to be marginally larger, it's renowned for its minuscule size and unique physical features. 

Resembling a leaf with its flat head and body, accentuated ribs, and vein-like patterns, it exhibits color variations— deep brown to yellowish green, tailoring to its camouflage need. Male counterparts often display brighter hues. 

Inhabiting the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, extending to the adjoining upland forest of Mozambique, you'll primarily find Marshall's Pygmy Chameleons nestled within the cool, damp forest interiors and fringes.

8. Western Pygmy Chameleons (Rhampholeon spectrum)

Western Pygmy Chameleons
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Western Pygmy chameleon, also known as the spectral pygmy or Cameroon stumptail chameleon, is a petite species native to the wet forests in western and central Africa, including Nigeria and Gabon, and even Bioko Island. 

No larger than 4 inches, these creatures often reside at ground level, perched on herbaceous plants and woody stems. Their color palette is typically subdued, with shades of tan to gray, yet capable of striking streaks and blotches. 

Unique features include independently rotating eye sockets and projectile tongues, similar to larger chameleons. However, they are notably less territorial and prefer cooler climates. 

9. Crested Chameleon (Trioceros cristatus)

Crested Chameleon
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

Known as the Crested Chameleon or Sail Backed Chameleon, this reptile is native to Central Africa, dwelling in environments from forests to farmland. 

This type of chameleon is instantly recognized by the sail fin adorning its back. Demonstrating sexual dimorphism, males exhibit a rich chestnut brown color, while females stand out in vibrant green hues.

10. Meller's Chameleon (Trioceros melleri)

Meller's Chameleon
Photo by Adrian Pingstone on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Meller's chameleons, also known as the giant one-horned chameleon, are notable as the largest chameleon species indigenous to the African mainland. It is typically found across the bushy savannas and woodlands of East Africa - Malawi, northern Mozambique, and Tanzania. 

An adult Meller's Chameleon measures 12 to 24 inches, with extraordinarily large specimens up to 30 inches long. Distinguished by its stout body, stubby tail, and a single small horn adorning its snout, its color patterns signal stress levels. 

During mild distress, black mottling overlays its usual color, turning charcoal gray, then white with yellow stripes under severe stress.

11. Jackson's Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii)

Jackson's Chameleon (
Photo by Movingsaletoday on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Named for its three distinctive brown horns, the Jackson's chameleon, also known as the Kikuyu three-horned chameleon, hails from the Kenyan and Tanzanian woodlands. 

Males of this species sport a horn on the nose and one above each eye, reminiscent of a Triceratops, while females often lack these features. 

Notably, their vibrant green hues can shift to shades of blue and yellow in response to mood, health, and temperature changes. Males measure up to 15 inches and females 10 inches, with a unique saw-tooth dorsal ridge. 

Sadly, invasive Jackson's chameleons in Hawaii significantly threaten native invertebrates3, especially endangered snails. Variations in diet have been observed, including a variety of insects and even whole land snails. This species embodies adaptability at the cost of biodiversity.

12. Four-Horned Chameleon (Trioceros quadricornis)

The Four-horned chameleon, indigenous to the highland regions of western Cameroon and southeastern Nigeria, is renowned for its novel physical attributes.

Primarily identifiable by its prehensile tail, unique toe-claws, and a quartet of horns, this species exhibits sexual dimorphism: males have a pronounced hemipenal bulge and a gular beard, while some females sport one or two horns on their snout tip. Their diet consists principally of arthropods. 

Unfortunately, the IUCN lists it as a vulnerable species, mainly due to habitat degradation from logging and farming, coupled with undue exploitation by the pet trade.

13. Usambara Three-Horned Chameleon (Trioceros deremensis)

Usambara Three-Horned Chameleon
Photo by Benjamin Klingebiel on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Usambara three-horned chameleon, also known as the wavy chameleon, exists exclusively in the Eastern Arc Mountains of Tanzania, at elevations between 2,600 and 7,500 feet. 

This type of chameleon is recognizable by its sail-like ridge and can reach up to 14 inches long. Males, which grow larger, possess three distinct horns, while females do not have any. 

Their primary hue is green, with potential variations in pattern and coloration, including yellow and black spots when irritated. As an oviparous species, females lay clutches of 8-40 eggs, and hatchlings can exhibit a purplish-white coloration.

14. Tiger Chameleon (Archaius tigris)

 Tiger Chameleon
Photo by Hans Stieglitz on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Tiger chameleon, or Seychelles tiger chameleon, is the sole species in the revived Archaius genus. Endemic to the Seychelles, this arboreal species thrives in lush forests and gardens on Mahé, Silhouette, and Praslin islands. 

At 6.3 inches long, it's on the petite side for a chameleon, bearing colors from muted light-grey to bold yellows, greens, or browns, often speckled with black spots. Its feature of note is a pointed chin projection framed by spiky outgrowths. 

Unfortunately, habitat changes, especially invasive alien plants like cinnamon, alarmingly threaten its survival. IUCN currently categorized Tiger Chameleons as endangered.

15. Bizarre-Nosed Chameleon (Calumma hafahafa)

The Bizarre-Nosed Chameleon, scientifically known as Calumma hafahafa, is distinguished by its uniquely upturned rostral appendages - a trait reflected in its name, derived from the Malagasy word “hafahafa,” meaning bizarre or strange. 

Besides its visual peculiarity, the chameleon's distribution is limited in northeastern Madagascar's high-altitude montane humid forests. 

Tragically, continued habitat decline due to destructive activities like slash-and-burn agriculture, fire, and cattle grazing has fragmented its population. Consequently, Bizarre-Nosed Chameleons are listed as Critically Endangered.

16. Parson’s Chameleon (Calumma parsonii)

Parson’s Chameleon
Photo by JialiangGao on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Parson’s Chameleon, endemic to eastern and northern Madagascar, resides mainly in humid primary forests and occasionally in disturbed habitats with trees. Deemed the world's heaviest chameleon, adult males generally weigh 18-25 oz, with distinctive casques atop their heads and ridges forming two 'horn'-like features. 

Four prominent color variants exist within Parson’s Chameleons. The "orange eye" variant presents a green or turquoise body with orange eyelids. The "yellow lip" variant features greenish or turquoise skin contrasted by yellow mouth edges. 

The "yellow giant" variant exhibits an overall yellow appearance. Meanwhile, the "green giant" variant reveals completely green or turquoise bodies, including the eyelids and mouth edge. 

Remarkably, their eggs require 400 to 660 days to hatch, the longest of any known reptile species. A report even observed a hatching of baby chameleons after an extended incubation period of 781 days1.

17. Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)

Panther Chameleon
Photo by Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Panther chameleons are sizable lizards, with males reaching 16 to 20 inches long, outstripping their female counterparts. These creatures display sexual dimorphism, with males exhibiting more vibrant hues. 

In terms of color variation, they range from brilliant blues to vivacious reds, introducing a broader color palette than other pet chameleon species. 

Hailing from Madagascar, panther chameleons are largely found in the lowland areas of the country's eastern and northeastern sections. Besides their native habitat, they have been introduced to Réunion and Mauritius and have lately found a home in Florida via the pet trade.

18. Two-banded Chameleon (Furcifer balteatus)

Two-banded Chameleon
Photo by Michiel de Groot on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Two-banded Chameleon, or Rainforest Chameleon, displays remarkable camouflage skills in its predominantly arboreal habitat. Primarily green, its surface is often patterned with darker green diagonal stripes flanked by light bands, culminating in a distinctive buff-colored streak. 

An adult can extend up to 9 inches in body length, with the tail spanning almost equally. Unique to males are a pair of horn-like features, about 0.6 inches long, on the head. 

Notably, it is listed as an Endangered species due to severe fragmentation and declining quality of its known habitat. However, its range is not fully understood; hence, further research is warranted.

19. Carpet Chameleon (Furcifer lateralis)

 Carpet Chameleon
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Carpet Chameleon, revered as the jewel or white-lined chameleon, displays considerable diversity in coloration. Females are adorned with bright, multicolored markings, while males exhibit predominantly green, white, or yellow patterns. 

Notably, characteristics such as stripy throats, lips, and distinctive lateral body lines are common in both genders. 

Their color schemes fluctuate based on mood and environment, with pregnant females exhibiting particularly vibrant markings. Warming up for the day often involves adopting a darker shade and basking under the sunlight.

Carpet Chameleons are endemic to eastern Madagascar, residing in various habitats. These range from forests and shrubby terrains to grasslands and well-planted gardens.

20. Oustalet's Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti)

Oustalet's Chameleon
Photo by Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Oustalet's chameleon, or the Malagasy giant chameleon, holds the record as the world’s largest chameleon species, with males measuring up to 27 inches. Females, notably smaller, reach sizes up to 16 inches. 

This species, endemic to Madagascar, occupies ecosystems as diverse as dry deciduous forests, humid evergreen forests, montane savannas, and even urban areas. 

The chameleon's physical features are remarkable. The head bears a high casque adorned with crests, and a dorsal crest of 45+ small, triangular spines runs along the spine. Their coloring varies; males typically exhibit grey or brownish hues - sometimes with orange-red feet or underparts. 

Female chameleons express more vibrant colors, including red, yellow, green, and occasionally blue eyelids. 

Their diet comprises large insects, small birds, reptiles, and, interestingly, fruit. This chameleon species is one of the few known to consume fruit.

21. Fischer's Chameleon (Kinyongia fischeri)

The Fischer's Chameleon, also recognized as the Nguru blade-horned chameleon, holds prominence for its unique physical attributes. Indigenous to Tanzania's Nguru and Nguu Mountains, this type of chameleon prefers to live in forests. 

It displays a striking, warty snout process, strongly laterally compressed and measuring up to 0.8 inches in males. Females, however, have distinctly smaller snouts, reaching up to 0.3 inches. A loose row of spiny scales forming a crest characterizes the first third of the reptile's back. 

This lizard exhibits a color variation palette ranging from lime green to forest green or brown, embellished by patterns and spots.

22. Mulanje Chameleon (Nadzikambia mlanjensis)

The Mulanje Chameleon is endemic to Malawi's Mount Mulanje. Notable for its vibrant coloration and features that blend into the evergreen forest fragments of its habitat, it prefers the moist, mid-altitude regions and the high-altitude Lichenya plateau. 

Unfortunately, this species finds itself under threat due to increasing pressure on the forest they call home, largely stemming from encroachment for agriculture, fuelwood collection, and illegal logging. 

An alarming estimation suggests that up to half of its habitat might have already been lost or degraded, resulting in a significantly declining and fragmented population. Currently listed as endangered, the need for protective measures for these creatures and their habitat is pressing.

23. Pygmy Grass Chameleon (Rieppeleon kerstenii)

Pygmy Grass Chameleon
Photo by Keultjes on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

Also known as the Kenya leaf chameleon, the Pygmy Grass Chameleon is a prominent species widespread across Somalia, eastern Ethiopia, Kenya, and northeastern Tanzania. 

This chameleon adapts to environments ranging from sea level to approximately 4,920 feet above sea level. The lizard thrives in bushland and grassland, with habitats spanning moist to dry savannah and coastal woodland. 

The Pygmy Grass Chameleons feature a unique, trigonal parietal bone tapering into a thin posterior sagittal crest. Its snout exhibits no rostral process, and its plantar surface bears acuminate spines. 

Notably, the chameleon does not possess accessory plantar spines, and a thin lateral flank ridge of tubercles is present2.

24. Namoroka Leaf Chameleon (Brookesia bonsi)

The Namoroka Leaf Chameleon, endemic to Madagascar's northwest region of Namoroka, is notable for its distinctive appearance and habitat preferences. This species resides in dry deciduous forests on limestone substrata, likely foraging within low vegetation and the ground. 

However, Namoroka Leaf Chameleons are critically endangered because of their extremely limited range and the threats of agricultural practices and wood collection8

With a protected status under national wildlife legislation and restricted to the Parc National de Namoroka, ongoing research is vital to monitor their population and manage threats effectively.

25. Nano-Chameleon (Brookesia nana)

Nano-Chameleon
Photo by Frank Glaw, Jörn Köhler, Oliver Hawlitschek, Fanomezana M. Ratsoavina, Andolalao Rakotoarison, Mark D. Scherz & Miguel Vences on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

Acclaimed herpetologist Frank Glaw and fellow German researchers discovered the nano-chameleon in the biodiverse rainforests of Madagascar in 2012. This minuscule creature, officially recognized in 2021, could be the world's smallest reptile.

Nano-chameleons, a blotchy brown species, showcase "paedomorphism," retaining their juvenile size into adulthood. Males measure about 0.87 inches, with marginally larger females at 1.1 inches. 

Adaptations include a disproportionately large hemipenis in males, facilitating reproduction with the larger females despite their small stature.

26. Brown Leaf Chameleon (Brookesia superciliaris)

Brown Leaf Chameleon
Photo by Bernard DUPONT on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Brown Leaf Chameleon, also referred to as the stump-tailed chameleon, resides in eastern Madagascar's evergreen forests, from sea level to heights over 4,100 feet. 

Boasting a high, laterally squashed body that mirrors a rolled-up, dead leaf, it displays colors from brown to dark red. Despite its small size, the chameleon's two horns and throat scales create a distinct appearance.

27. Elongate Leaf Chameleon (Palleon nasus)

 Elongate Leaf Chameleon
Photo by Julien Renoult on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Elongate Leaf Chameleon, native to the humid forests of southeastern and northern Madagascar, displays unique physical attributes. It was initially classified as Brookesia nasus in 1887 and reclassified5 as a Palleon species in 2013. 

This small, brown lizard measures between 1.5-3.4 inches, with a short tail, a long snout, and a convex dorsal ridge. Unlike any Brookesia species, it possesses a pointed head, snout-tip lobes, and a pronounced dorsal ridge. 

Currently listed as vulnerable, its habitat faces declining quality due to deforestation and fragmentation, posing a critical threat to its survival.

Conservation Status of Various Types of Chameleons

Chameleons, despite their vibrant allure, face considerable threats. Based on the latest IUCN Red List, out of around 202 species, ten are critically endangered, 43 are endangered, and 25 are vulnerable. This indicates that nearly one-third of all chameleon species face some risk of extinction.

Habitat degradation and illicit pet trade, driven by their dramatic color-changing abilities, are the prominent culprits in their dwindling numbers. It's vital to tackle these threats for the continued survival of these biodiversity marvels.

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1

Laube, A. (2020). 781 days in the egg: Prolonged incubation time in Calumma parsonii parsonii (Cuvier, 1824) resulting in a healthy juvenile and revealing circumstantial evidence for sperm retention in this species.

2

Matthee, C. A., Tilbury, C. R., & Townsend, T. M. (2004). A phylogenetic review of the African leaf chameleons: genus Rhampholeon (Chamaeleonidae): the role of vicariance and climate change in speciation. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 271(1551), 1967–1975.

3

Holland, B. S., Montgomery, S. L., & Costello, V. (2009). A reptilian smoking gun: first record of invasive Jackson’s chameleon (Chamaeleo jacksonii) predation on native Hawaiian species. Biodiversity and Conservation, 19(5), 1437–1441.

4

Segall, M., Tolley, K. A., Vanhooydonck, B., Measey, G. J., & Herrel, A. (2013). Impact of temperature on performance in two species of South African dwarf chameleon, Bradypodion pumilum and B. occidentale. The Journal of experimental biology216(Pt 20), 3828–3836.

5

Glaw, F., Hawlitschek, O., & Ruthensteiner, B. (2013). A new genus name for an ancient Malagasy chameleon clade and a PDF-embedded 3D model of its skeleton. Salamandra, 49(4), 237-238.

6

 Glaw, F. (2015). Taxonomic checklist of chameleons (Squamata: Chamaeleonidae). Vertebrate Zoology, 65, 167-246.

7

Carpenter, A. I., Rowcliffe, J. M., & Watkinson, A. R. (2004). The dynamics of the global trade in chameleons. Biological Conservation, 120(2), 291–301.

8

Jenkins, R.K.B., Andreone, F., Andriamazava, A., Anjeriniaina, M., Glaw, F., Rabibisoa, N., Rakotomalala, D., Randrianantoandro, J.C., Randrianiriana, J., Randrianizahana , H., Raselimanana, A., Ratsoavina, F., Raxworthy, C.J. & Robsomanitrandrasana, E. (2011). Brookesia bonsi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011: e.T172878A6934200. 

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