Anatomy of a chameleon

Baby veiled chameleon seen from the top.

This website is about the Veiled Chameleon Chamaeleo calyptratus. Other names for this species are Jemen chameleon or Yemen Chameleon.

Body size and skeleton

An adult veiled chameleon will reach a size of 50 cm for males or 40 cm for females. This includes their tail. The tail and the rest of the body are almost of equal length.

The skeleton of a chameleon is a bit different than the human skeleton. A chameleon has much more ribs than mammals do. They also have a bone in their tongue and have a huge hollow bone on their head. Their spine has long tips on the vertebrae.

Skeleton of a veiled chameleon
Skeleton of a veiled chameleon

Senses of a chameleon

A chameleon has 5 senses, just like us. They do develop their senses differently than we do and focus mostly on sight.

Sight – Independently moving eyes

Chameleons have a very well developed eyesight. They have their famous independently rotating eyes, giving them a funny look. This enables their eyes to both scan the environent in two directions at once, and to focus their two eyes on one spot to be able to see in 3D. It can then see how far an object is, which is very handy when it needs to catch a bug with its tongue. It needs to target the correct spot, not just see the general direction of the prey.

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The independently moving eyes makes it necessary that the chameleons brain is able to process the information from each eye separately.

Chameleons are able to see colors and can see pretty sharply. They do not see well in the dark.


Hearing – Hearing without ears

Chameleons do not have ears or an ear canal. Yet they are able to hear sounds! Chameleons can hear low tones with a membrane on the side of their head. This membrane starts to vibrate with low tones, after which bones in the chameleons head channel the vibrations to its auditory organ.

Chameleons mainly use their sense of hearing to communicate with each other. Chameleons are able to produce low tones which other chameleons can hear. It is a sort of growling. It is hard for humans to hear these tones, but they can be recorded and can be felt when you touch your chameleon when it is growling. They use this sound to scare away other chameleons, especially during mating. A larger chameleon is able to produce deeper, lower tones, signalling to the competitor that it is larger and thus stronger. This will prevent a fight as the smaller male will realise it is not going to be able to win the fight. It is not sure if the growling has other functions for chameleons.

Taste – Tasting with its tongue

A chameleon can taste with its tongue, just like us. It is not clear exactly how well it a chameleon can distinquish different flavors, but it can at least taste sweet, sour and bitter. It is useful for any animal to recognise flavors, as some food can be poisionous and often this food has a bitter taste.

You can also see for yourself that a chameleon is able to taste. It will clearly eat some feeder insects more readily than others. It must like the taste!

Touch – Feeling surfaces

A chameleon can feel with its skin and feet. It’s not clear how much it uses this skill. You won’t be seeing a chameleon touching something to check what it feels like.

Smell – A nose for scents

Chameleons has two nostrils at the front of its head. He uses them to breath with, but can also smell with them. The sense of smell is not well developed in chameleons. It is not clear how they use their sense of smell.