Wild animals

Different Types of Chameleons

Karina Cruz Fernández
By Karina Cruz Fernández. April 14, 2024
Different Types of Chameleons

The chameleon provides a particular fascination for lizard lovers, being one of the few terrestrial vertebrates which possesses the ability to chane color. Moreover, their pigment-changing behaviors are more advanced than many of the other animals which can change their skin. This is not to say all types of chameleon have the same abilities. While most chameleons can change color to some extent, some do so much more than others. While camouflage is a helpful use of this ability, it is also important for many other behaviors, especially in terms of social communication. This is because different types of chameleons need to communicate for different reasons.

At thedailyECO, we learn more by discovering the different types of chameleons. We provide names and characteristics of chameleon species with photos to see what they look like.

You may also be interested in: Different Types of Mammals
  1. How many types of chameleon are there?
  2. Common chameleon
  3. Veiled Chameleon
  4. Jackson's Chameleon
  5. panther chameleon
  6. Nano chameleon (Brookesia nana)
  7. Tiger chameleon
  8. Parson's Chameleon
  9. Smith's dwarf chameleon

How many types of chameleon are there?

Chameleons are types of reptile which can be found in the family Chamaeleonidae. They are part of the largest order of reptiles known as Squamata, the order which includes lizards and snakes. Chameleons are types of lizards which are grouped together due to certain traits and abilities. In addition to the aforementioned ability to change color, chameleons have limbs adapted for arboreal behaviors, prehensile tails, extendable tongues and eyes that can move independently, among other common traits.

The family Chamaeleonidae to which all chameleons belong is divided into two subfamilies, the Chamaleoninae and the Brookesiinae subfamily. These are further broken down into 12 genera, each with a varying number of individual species. While there are around 206 known chameleon species, this is always subject to change. Such change can be due to new species being discovered or changes in taxonomic classifications.

Subfamily Chameleoninae

Made up of ten genera:

  • Archaius: it has 1 species in the Seychelles Islands.
  • Bradypodion: it has 25 species in Southeast Africa.
  • Calumma: it has 31 species in Madagascar.
  • Chamaeleo: it has 14 species in Europe, Africa and Asia.
  • Furcifer: it has 22 species in Madagascar and the country of Comoros.
  • Kinyongia: has 18 species in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • Nadzikambia: it has 2 species in Mozambique and Malawi.
  • Rhampholeon: has 18 species in East Africa.
  • Rieppeleon: it has 3 species in East Africa.
  • Trioceros: it has 40 species in Africa.

Subfamily Brookesiinae

Made up of two genera:

  • Brookesia: it has 30 species in Madagascar.
  • Palleon: has two known species, also in Madagascar.

While we are unable to list all of the known chameleon species within the above genera, we are able to look at some of the most representative species. Below we look at some of these chameleon species with photos, providing information on habitats, behaviors and anything else which might be useful.

As you can see, many of the different types of chameleon are endemic to the African island of Madagascar. This is thanks to parts of Madagascar being considered biodiversity hotspots where many plant and animal species live. Learn more with our article on what is a biodiversity hotspot?

Common chameleon

The common chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) belongs to the genus Chamaeleo. While the majority of chameleon species have a distribution range contained within the African continent, there are a few species which have populations further afield. The common chameleon is the only extant type of chameleon which can be found naturally in Europe.

In the Mediterranean, the natural habitat of the common chameleon is pine forests and other areas with dense vegetation. Outside of Europe, it can be found in rainforests and similar arboreal areas. They have the opposable toes and prehensile tails common to all chameleons. They measure around 12"/30 cm as adults.

Different Types of Chameleons - Common chameleon

Veiled Chameleon

We can tell something of the veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) by considering some of its other common names such as the Yemen chameleon or the cone-head chameleon. The former name points to the fact that it can be found in mountainous areas of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. The latter references the bony protrusion on their head known as a casque which distinguishes it from many other types of chameleon species. This can be seen in the photo below.

The casque is believed to serve various purposes, such as signaling during mating or thermoregulation. The veiled chameleon diet consists mainly of insects, although it is one of the few types of chameleon which includes plant material in its diet. These include leaves, flowers and some fruits. It is important to note they are complementary foods, usually to provide water when they cannot obtain it directly from their environment.

Different Types of Chameleons - Veiled Chameleon

Jackson's Chameleon

Jackson's chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii) belongs to the genus Trioceros. It is native to East Africa and is distinguished from other types of chameleon by the three horns on its head (depicted in photo). It has a preference for living in cold and humid areas of Kenya and Tanzania. However, it was introduced to Hawaii in the 1970s. Female Jackson's chameleons give birth to a litter of between eight and thirty chameleon babies after a gestation period of five or six months.

Learn more about the world of reptiles with our article explaining the difference between crocodiles and alligators.

Different Types of Chameleons - Jackson's Chameleon

panther chameleon

The panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) is one of the most common species of the Furcifer genus. It originates from Madagascar and is characterized by its large size and distinctive colors. Depending on its geographical location, this chameleon can exhibit a variety of color combinations, such as green and turquoise blue, white and red, bright green and red, khaki green and dark red, or even a rich shade of pink.

Different Types of Chameleons - panther chameleon

Nano chameleon (Brookesia nana)

Belonging to the genus Brookesia, the nano chameleon is appropriately named. Endemic to northern Madagascar and only recently described in 2021, the nano chameleon is considered to be the smallest reptile species in the world. It does not usually measure longer than 1.1"/2.9 cm in length, with females being larger than males. They are reddish brown in color and do not have the same color changing abilities as most other chameleons.

Learn about some of the other rare animals that can be found in Madagascar with our article on types of poisonous frog species.

Different Types of Chameleons - Nano chameleon (Brookesia nana)

Tiger chameleon

The tiger chameleon (Archaius tigris) belongs to the genus Archaius, being its only extant member. This chameleon is endemic to the Seychelles islands. It can reach a length of up to 16 cm and prefers to live in primary and secondary forests, where there is a wide diversity of vegetation. Unfortunately, as with too many of the different types of chameleon species, its conservation status is critically endangered.

Different Types of Chameleons - Tiger chameleon

Parson's Chameleon

The Parson's chameleon (Calumma parsonii) is perhaps the most recognized and emblematic specimen of its species. With its telescopic eyes, incredibly varied color combinations and sloped body, it is in many ways the chameleon's chameleon. As weith many of the different species of chameleon, it is endemic to the lush jungles of Madagascar. It can reach a length of up to 31.5"/80 cm, making it one of the largest chameleons along with the Malagasy giant chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti). The Parson's chameleon ranks first in terms of body volume.

Different Types of Chameleons - Parson's Chameleon

Smith's dwarf chameleon

The Smith's dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion taeniabronchum) belongs to the genus Bradypodion. It is a reptile exclusive to South Africa that is at risk of disappearing due to the degradation of its natural environment. This is partly due to the fact its natural habitat is in the Fynbos belt of shrubland which has been facing many conservation issues over the years.

Now that you know the different types of chameleons, we invite you to read our article about another lizard species which explains the difference between a gecko and a salamander.

Different Types of Chameleons - Smith's dwarf chameleon

If you want to read similar articles to Different Types of Chameleons, we recommend you visit our Wild animals category.

  • Klaver, C., & Böhme, W. (1986). Phylogeny and classification of the Chamaeleonidae (Sauria) with special reference to hemipenis morphology. Bonner Zoologische Monographien, 22, 1-64.
  • Tolley K., Townsend T., & Vences M. (2013). Large-scale phylogeny of chameleons suggests African origins and Eocene diversification. Proc Biol Sci., 280(1759), 20130184.
    doi: 10.1098/rspb.2013.0184.
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Different Types of Chameleons