The Common Chameleon: The Only Chameleon Found in Europe
Discover a Unique Lizard
I live in Portugal, which has a wide variety of fauna and flora. This is due in part to its mixture of habitats that range from mountains and forests to arid, semi-desert scrubland. There are many lizards and other reptiles in the country, and one of the most interesting is the common chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon). It is the only type of chameleon found in Europe.
How to Identify the Common Chameleon
This species is mainly some shade of green, yellowish-green or brown in colour and is mostly found living in bushes and small trees in scrubland areas. It has a prehensile tail and four-toed feet that it uses to grasp the twigs and branches it climbs on.
Why Do Chameleons Change Colour?
Like most chameleons, this species can change its skin colouration in response to light, temperature and factors that influence its mood. Scientists believe that this phenomenon is caused by the way light reflects off of specialized cells in the species' skin. Contrary to popular belief, this trait is not an attempt at camouflage but a response to environmental conditions. A colour change may occur when a chameleon is feeling threatened, is attempting to attract a mate or is trying to increase its body temperature.
Where It Lives: From Portugal to Spain and Beyond
Also known as the Mediterranean chameleon, it is found in the warm, southern part of Portugal known as the Algarve. It also has native colonies in Crete, Cyprus and southern Spain. Although populations of this reptile can be found in other Mediterranean countries and islands, such as Italy and Malta, they are introduced rather than indigenous. Outside of Europe, it is native to parts of Morocco and North Africa, as well as several countries in the Middle East.
What It Eats
Common chameleons hunt insects and spiders as food, and they enjoy eating mantises and wasps. These lizards stalk their prey and shoot out their long tongues to catch the small creatures they eat. Reportedly, they will resort to cannibalism at times and will eat smaller individuals of their own species.
In addition to hunting prey, they are said to eat a small amount of fruit.
How It Reproduces
These reptiles mostly live on their own and establish individual territories that they patrol regularly. They are happy living as solitary creatures; however, they seek out others of their own type when it's time to mate.
Common chameleons take a year or more to become sexually mature, and the females of the species are larger than the males. The mating season is from mid-July through mid-September; at these times, the males will fight over females. After mating, the females deposit clutches of eggs which they bury in the ground. These eggs need a long incubation time and can take as long as a year before they hatch.
Chameleon of the Algarve
Remember, the common chameleon changes its skin colouration in response to light, temperature and factors that influence its mood—not to blend in with its surroundings.
When and How It Hibernates
The hibernation period for this species ranges from late autumn through the winter; this is when food is harder to find and the temperature drops significantly. These reptiles dig burrows in the sandy soil for shelter during hibernation.
Threats Facing This Species
The common chameleon is under threat in Portugal mostly due to habitat loss. Its habitat has shrunk due to widespread and continuing building development projects caused by an increase in tourism in the area.
These lizards are also caught to be sold as pets, but this species does not do well in captivity. Sadly, it has been observed that most caught specimens will die not long after capture. They do best in the wild!
The Chameleon in the Wild in Cyprus
© 2015 Steve Andrews