What Are the Different Types of Chameleons?

Drue Tibbits

There are more 160 species of chameleons. Only a few of these are kept as pets as many types of chameleons have demanding care requirements or are unable to adapt to captivity. No matter the species, all chameleons have eyes that move independently of each other and long tongues with sticky ends. These reptiles range in size from tiny specimens of 1.3 inches (3.3 cm) long to species that grow to 30 inches (76.2 cm) long. Chameleons comprise the family of Chamaeleonidae, which can be separated into six subfamilies.

There are 160 species of chameleon, ranging in length from 1.3 inches to 30 inches.
There are 160 species of chameleon, ranging in length from 1.3 inches to 30 inches.

The Chamaeleo subfamily contains more species of chameleons than the others. This group includes those that are often kept as pets, such as the common chameleon, or Chamaeleo chameleon; the four-horned chameleon, or Chamaeleo quadricornus; and the veiled chameleon, or Chamaeleo calyptractus. Others of this group include Millers giant chameleon, or Chamaeleo melleri, and the flap-neck chameleon, or Chamaeleo dilepsis. Most of this group average between 9 inches (22.9 cm) long to 24 inches (61 cm) long.

The veiled chameleon is often kept as a pet.
The veiled chameleon is often kept as a pet.

One of the subfamilies, Brookesia, is made up of smaller types of chameleons. The smallest of all chameleons, the leaf chameleon, or Brookesia minima, belongs to this group and grows to only 1.3 inches (3.3 cm) long. This chameleon has the engaging habit of playing dead if it is disturbed. The largest member of this subfamily is the armored chameleon, or Brookesia perarmata, which tops out at only 4 inches (10.2 cm) long. Several Brookesia chameleons are suitable as pets.

Most members of the Furcifer subfamily of chameleons are large. The largest of all chameleons is Oustalet’s chameleon, or Furcifer oustalet, which can grow to 30 inches (76.2 cm) long. This group also includes one of the most popular types of chameleons, the panther chameleon, or Furcifer pardalis. Panther chameleons come in beautiful color morphs, including blue, pink, and rainbow. These reptiles are also quite large, growing to 20 inches (50.8 cm) long.

Dwarf chameleons make up the entirety of the Bradypodian subfamily. Although these types of chameleons are named dwarf chameleons, most are larger than the tiny Brookesias. Members of this group include the Zululand dwarf chameleon, or Bradypodian nemorale, and the Karoo dwarf chameleon, or Bradypodian karroicum. Bradypodian chameleons average about 6 inches (15.2 cm) long and are rarely kept in captivity. Members of the remaining chameleon subfamilies, Rhampolean and Calumma, are not suitable as pets and, like Bradypodian chameleons, are seldom kept in captivity.

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