Common chameleon

Discover fascinating facts about the colour-changing reptile found in south of Portugal

See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine February 2016


Earth lions

  • Yes, most chameleon-type animals are found in Africa and Madagascar. But the common chameleon, aka Mediterranean chameleon (in case you’re interested, its scientific name is Chamaeleo chamaeleon) has been introduced into southern Portugal about 60 years ago.
  • They liked it here and stayed. Nowadays, they hang around in bushes, open pine woodland, almond orchards and olive groves. If you’re lucky you might even find an earth lion (the word ‘chameleon’ means ‘earth lion’) chilling in your garden. The one on the picture is shedding its skin.


Completely camouflaged

  • Chameleons are pretty good at blending in with their background. But that’s not because they automatically adapt to the colour of their surroundings. Colour changing happens as a result of the animal’s emotions or changes in temperature, light or humidity.
  • The colour of the common chameleon can range from green and yellow brown to dark brown. How? Chameleons change colour by changing the structure of a layer of special skin cells. Manipulating the space between these cells changes the reflection of light and thus creates different colours.


Ballistic tongue

  • Good luck trying to sneak up on a chameleon. Their eyes can rotate and focus separately, meaning they can look at two directions at once. This gives them a 360˚ vision around their body, pretty useful when hunting.
  • Chameleons catch their prey by ballistically projecting their tongue, which can be up to twice as long as their body and lies coiled up in their mouth. The tip of the tongue is a muscle, which quickly forms a suction cup when it hits an insect. Gotcha!


Find them

  • Want to see a chameleon? Increase your chances by looking in September and October. These months, the females leave the trees to lay their eggs and can often be seen crossing roads. Each year they produce between 5 and 45 eggs in a single clutch, which they then bury in the ground.
  • Chameleons like peace and quietness. The best places to spot them in the Algarve are protected areas such as the Ria Formosa Nature Reserve near Olhão, or the pine woodland near Monte Gordo.


See original article in Enjoy the Algarve – magazine February 2016

Posted in Typical Portugal.

Leave a Reply