Chameleons or chamaeleons (family Chamaeleonidae) are a distinctive and highly specialized clade of lizards. The approximately 160 species of chameleon come in a range of colors, and many species have the ability to change colors. Chameleons are distinguished by their zygodactylous feet; their very long, highly modified, rapidly extrudable tongues; their swaying gait; and crests or horns on their distinctively shaped heads. Most species, the larger ones in particular, also have a prehensile tail. Chameleons’ eyes are independently mobile, but in aiming at a prey item, they focus forward in coordination, affording the animal stereoscopic vision. Chameleons are adapted for climbing and visual hunting. They are found in warm habitats that range from rain forest to desert conditions, various species occurring in Africa, Madagascar, southern Europe, and across southern Asia as far as Sri Lanka. They also have been introduced to Hawaii, California, and Florida, and often are kept as household pets.

Some chameleon species are able to change their skin coloration. Different chameleon species are able to vary their coloration and pattern through combinations of pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, light blue, yellow, turquoise, and purple.[citation needed]

Color change in chameleons has functions in social signaling and in reactions to temperature and other conditions, as well as in camouflage. The relative importance of these functions varies with the circumstances, as well as the species. Color change signals a chameleon’s physiological condition and intentions to other chameleons. Chameleons tend to show darker colors when angered, or attempting to scare or intimidate others, while males show lighter, multicolored patterns when courting females.

Some species, such as Smith’s dwarf chameleon, adjust their colors for camouflage in accordance with the vision of the specific predator species (bird or snake) by which they are being threatened.

The desert-dwelling Namaqua chameleon also uses color change as an aid to thermoregulation, becoming black in the cooler morning to absorb heat more efficiently, then a lighter grey color to reflect light during the heat of the day. It may show both colors at the same time, neatly separated left from right by the spine.



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