Chamowners Web - Myths, Misconceptions, and Folklore

Myths, Misconceptions, and Folklore

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Color Change



Tongue Action


(Susan James) female Dilepis


The word literally means "small, crawling (chamae) lion (leon) or "lion on the ground" from ancient Greek.

literature cited (5,7)  



Color Change as Camouflage

It was Aristotle that first thought chameleons changed color to match their surroundings. It is incorrect to assume that chameleons can change to any color. Each species has their own limited range. While this ability certainly helps the chameleon hide, that is not the reason for their colorful displays.

One of the primary reasons for color change is to regulate temperature. Dark colors absorb heat and light colors repel heat. When the chameleon needs to warm up they make themselves flat and dark to absorb more heat. They will also try to move closer to the source of heat. Another reason for their color change is emotion. They will display different colors when threatened by the presence of other chameleons, when attempting to mate, after mating, or when defending their territory. Health is another reason for color changes. A chameleon in poor health may not have the energy required to change color, and so they remain pale in color.

Their ability to hide under predator's or prey's noses is extremely important for these slow moving predators. To rephrase an old phrase "If it had been a chameleon it would have bitten you".    


  literature cited (2,5,6,7,9)







COMFY LADY .jpg (128480 bytes)




    LADY SIDE 02.jpg (27242 bytes)

(David Pickering)

 calyptratus (veiled) female 


The above four pictures are all the same animal 



LADY HIDING 01.jpg (57454 bytes)


 (David Pickering)

female veiled


     (Andy Beveredge) male B. antakarana





(Andy Beveridge)   male quadricornis



(Trevor Dell) male Bradypodion pumilum  

Some  Native Superstitions

In much of their homelands, chameleons are believed to have supernatural powers. For example  it is believed that a chameleon crossing your path brings  bad luck (sound familiar). If seen by a chameleon, a pregnant woman will have a difficult childbirth.  A girl will remain unwed if a chameleon looks in her eyes, if hunters come across a chameleon before the hunt, they should abort - the hunt has been cursed. If a chameleon walks across food it has become poisoned. Chameleons are messengers of evil ghosts in Gambia. Native women will expose their breasts and spray milk on chameleons to calm the ghosts.

In Madagascar "fady" or taboo is the way of life. The panther chameleons, which are prominent there, are protected by folklore and fady. If a man "touches" a chameleon, he is not allowed to touch his wife for three days. 

If you kill one you will have bad luck.  


While there are some exceptions, for the most part the native people fear and hate these wonderful little creatures. 



literature cited (5,7)



Some of the more popular sayings include:

"The chameleon may be slow, but it always reaches its target"

"The eyes of the chameleon stand upright, yet they are small"

"If it had been a chameleon it would have ZAPPED you"

and my favorite" Walk like a chameleon-look forward, but watch your back" 



literature cited (7)


  open_wide.jpg (116078 bytes) 

(David Pickering)  

Female Veiled

Stage 1

(Andy Beveridge)



                                     Stage 2          


(Scott Axel)  


Stage 3/4







(David Pickering)        



(Andy Beveridge)



                      Stage 5                         



 (David Pickering)  



The Chameleon's Tongue

 DOES NOT roll out and in like a fire hose, nor does it GROW from increased blood flow. It is not "inflated with air" as was thought as late as the 1930's.It is actually more of a spring loaded mechanism similar to a pinball machine releasing the ball (with a built in retractor). It is and a very complicated process involving bones that hold the tongue back, and muscles that release and retract it. Their tongue is as long or longer than their body. The tip is fatter than the rest of the tongue and has a slightly sticky wet, secretion generated by glands in the tongue tip. The tip widens when the target is hit, and as it pulls back, it creates a slight suction, which helps hold the food item in place. After shooting their tongue out, the chameleon will close its eyes, much like we do when we sneeze, to help protect them from possible damage. To protect the tongue from possible damage, they have control only over the distance of the strike once the tongue is released. The aim is taken before the release and can not be changed. If a chameleon accidentally catches a non-food item, the tongue pushes it out of the mouth.

Another controversial and interesting tongue trick done by chameleons is a "taste test' of branches. It is believed that they do this to determine territory claims. Their "Jacobson's organ" (for smell) is degenerative, much like our tonsils, so it is believed that they use this process for SMELL. Taste buds have been found in their tongues. 

Listed below are the FIVE stages of "tongue action" involved in catching the prey, according to "Chameleons Volume Two Care and Breeding" (see lit cited 9). Petr Necas (lit cited 7) has a slightly different account of this process.

1. BOTH eyes lock on prey (aim).

2. The tip of the tongue is stuck out of the mouth, sort of a sampling (protrusion).

3. The tongue is shot out and the prey is affixed to the tip (projection).

4. The tongue returns to the mouth (retraction).

5. The prey item is chewed and swallowed (dinner)

The chameleons tongue is so unique that they were actually once considered a separate suborder RHIPTOGLOSSA which means "whip tongue"


literature cited (1,2,5,6,7


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Chamowners Web - Myths, Misconceptions, and Folklore