Common Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon)

/ / Reptiles


Chamaeleo chamaeleon has a length between 20 and 40 cm, with females often being larger than males.  C. Chamaeleon mainly feeds on arthropods, but will also ingest vegetation as well as pebbles to aid digestion (1). The chameleon is able to change its skin colour, so can appear green, grey, brown with stripes and spots, depending on the vegetation it is found in. According to recent research C. chamaeleon changes colour in order to communicate with conspecifics, especially in terms of sexual selection (2). The chameleon has a zygodactylous foot structure with five toes on each foot, fused into a group of two and a group of three. This allows the chameleon to grip tightly to narrow branches. Each toe has a sharp claw which helps the chameleon move over surfaces such as bark.  The eyelids are fused together and the chameleon is able to move its eyes independently of each other (3). The common chameleon has a tongue which can reach up to twice its body length to capture prey, as well as a prehensile tail which acts like a 5th limb in order to aid in movement through branches.

Life Cycle

Mating season occurs from mid-July until mid-September. The common chameleon is an oviparous species, with up to 40 eggs being laid in October (4). The females deposit the eggs in a nest, and after 10 months incubation period the hatchlings appear. During mating the males exhibit mate guarding behaviour over the females, but may mate with more than 1 female during the season (5).


C. chamaeleon is a territorial species, and will only seek conspecifics during the breeding season.  Males guard their territory fiercely against other males. The chameleon moves in a slow and hesitating manner, in order to resemble a leaf blowing in the wind to aid in camouflage (6).


The common chameleon is an arboreal species, and only travels on ground in order to find a mate or nest eggs. Can be found in a number of habitats, but prefers riverine vegetation, olive groves and vineyards (7). Ontogenetic habitat shifts have been observed, where juveniles will inhabit low grasses, whilst adults remain in trees. This shift is driven by cannibalistic tendencies in the adults (8).


C.chamaeleon has the widest distribution of all chameleon species and can be found in North Africa, the Middle East and Europe in the Mediterranean basin. In Europe it is found in Southern Portugal, Southern Spain and the Aegean island of Samos (9).

Conservation Status

Not currently evaluated under the IUCN Redlist (10)

Protected under Appendix II of CITES (11)

Listed under Appendix IV of the European Habitats Directive (11)

Listed under Appendix II of BERN Convention (12).


Description written by Sheridan Willis (2009)

(1)   Pleguezuelos, J.M., Poveda, J.C., Monterrubio, R. And Ontiveros, D. (1999). Feeding habitof the Common Chameleon, Chamaeleo chamaeleon (Linnaeus, 1758) in the Southeastern IberianPeninsula. Israel Journal of Zoology 45: p267- 276

(2)   Stuart-Fox, D. And Mousalli, A. (2008). Selection for social signalling drives the evolution of chameleon colour change. PLoS Biology 6 (1): p22- 29

(3)   Bennis, M., Repérant, J., Rio, J.P. and Ward, R. (1994). An experimental re-evaluation of the primary visual system of the chameleon, Chamaeleo chamaeleon. Brain, Behaviour and Evolution 43 (3): p173- 188

(4)   Andrews, R.M., Diaz-Panigua, C., Marco, A. And Portheault, A. (2008). Developmental arrest during embryonic development of the Common Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) in Spain. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology 81 (3): p336- 344

(5)    Cuadrado, M. (2001). Mate guarding and social mating system in male common chameleons (Chamaeleo chamaeleon). Journal of Zoology, London 255: p425- 435

(6)   Ott, M., Schaeffel, F. And Kirmse, W. (1998). Binocular vision and accommodation in prey- catching chameleons. Journal of Comparitive Physiology 182: p319- 330

(7)   Dimaki, M. (2001). Reports from the field: the European Chameleons. Chameleon Information Network 41: p11- 13

(8)   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: p723- 731

(9)   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 (1): p87- 91

(10)           IUCN 2009. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2009.1 Chamaeleo chamaeleon in: <> Downloaded on 04 August 2009

(11)           Hodar, 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: p63- 68

(12)           Europe, C.o., 2002. Convention on the conservation of European wildlife and natural habitats: Bern Convention. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 23 July 2009]