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A roving eye . . .

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The Parson's chameleon (Calumma parsonii) is one of the largest and most robust chameleons, the males growing to a maximum of 65 cm in length. Madagascar is home to the Parson's chameleon, as well as over two thirds of the world's chameleon species. These peaceful, lethargic reptiles are stealth predators that can remain motionless for hours awaiting their prey. Their adaptations for predation are most startling.


The name “chameleon” betokens a veil of secrecy and mystery. Recent research on these interesting creatures, though, begins to draw this veil aside to reveal extraordinary physiological gifts.

The common currency of reptile folklore would have us believe that chameleons change colour in response to their background, but this is not true. Although the animal relies upon its camouflage to escape detection in some situations, it changes colour in response to mood, temperature, and light intensity but not according to its background. Aggressive territorial colour displays are common among males but other social displays, including courtship and species recognition, also rely heavily upon colour change. To accomplish these remarkable changes, chameleons have a complex skin structure. True chameleons have three types of chromatophores in their skin including xanthophores containing yellow or red pigmentation, melanophores containing melanin, and guanophores that reflect blue light but do not contain true pigment. The xanthophores are found in the superficial dermis and the melanophores are in the deeper dermis, with the guanophores beneath the melanophores. The melanophores project dendritic processes through the dermis upward towards …

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