The Panther Chameleon is a brightly colored species of lizard reptile that lives in the rainforests of the Republic of Madagascar. These iridescent “chameleons” are very common in the pet trade and their popularity is mainly due to their outstanding mottled, spotted coat. Creatures change color in the same way as other chameleons, but in a very impressive way. The hues and tones of geographically isolated populations are extremely different from each other, depending on their species.
Species origin and description
For the first time, the panther chameleon was described by the French naturalist Georges Cuvier in 1829. The generic name (Furcifer), which comes from the Latin root furci, meaning “forked”, characterizes the shape of the animal’s legs. The specific name pardalis refers to the color of the animal, since in Latin it sounds like “leopard” or “spotted panther”. The English word chameleon comes from the Latin chamaeleō, borrowed from the ancient Greek χαμαιλέων (khamailéōn) — it is a combination of two words, χαμαί (khamaí) “on the ground” + λέων (léōn) “lion”.
Video: Panther chameleon
The oldest described chameleon is Anqingosaurus brevicephalus from the Middle Paleocene (about 58.7–61.7 million years old) from China. Other chameleon fossils include Chamaeleo caroliquarti from the Lower Miocene (c. 13–23 Ma) in the Czech Republic and Germany, and Chamaeleo ntermedius from the Upper Miocene (c. 5–13 Ma) from Kenya.
It’s interesting! Chameleons are probably much older, having a common ancestor with the iguanids and agamids over 100 million years ago. Because fossils have been found in Africa, Europe, and Asia, chameleons were certainly more common in the past than they are today.
Although almost half of all chameleon species now live in Madagascar, this does not suggest that chameleons originate from there. In fact, they have recently been shown to have most likely originated on the African mainland. There may have been two distinct migrations from the mainland to Madagascar. Scientists have suggested that the different species of chameleons directly reflect the increase in open habitats (savannas, grasslands, and heaths) that accompanied the Oligocene period. Family monophyly is confirmed by research.
Appearance and Features
Male panther chameleons can grow up to 20 cm in length, but the most typical animal length is about 17 cm. Females are smaller, about half. In the form of sexual dimorphism, males are more brightly colored than females. The body is painted in various shades of blue and green, and sometimes black, with bright spots of yellow, pink, orange and red. Male chameleons often have vertical stripes of red and blue hues on their bodies. Yellowish chameleons are also not uncommon.
It is interesting! Coloration varies by location. The various color schemes of chameleon panthers are commonly referred to as “locales”, meaning the species are named according to their geographic location.
Females tend to remain brown or brownish with hints of pink, peach, or bright orange , no matter where they are, but between the different color phases in different species, there are slight differences in patterns and colors. Males weigh between 140 and 185 grams, while females — 60 to 100 g.
- Feet: 5 toes connected in two groups of two and three fingers, which give the legs a tongs-like appearance. The group of two fingers is on the outside, and the group of three — inside.
- Eyes: They are conical and can rotate freely. Each eye can focus separately on two different objects.
- Nose: Two small nostrils above the mouth, like most other chameleon species. They have white mucus around their noses.
- Tail: Moderately long and flexible. The chameleon can rotate it freely to suit its needs.
In keeping with sexual dimorphism, male panther chameleons have small protrusions protruding from their head.
Where does the panther chameleon live?
Although chameleon panthers are locally endemic to the island of Madagascar (near Africa), this the species has also been introduced to the main island of Mauritius and to the neighboring island of Réunion, where it has settled naturally as an invasive species. In Madagascar, this species is found mainly in the flat areas in the eastern and northeastern parts of the island, ranging from 80 to 950 m above sea level, although it is less common above 700 m.
Panther chameleons live much closer to the forest floor than many other species. They live in the foliage of small trees in tropical rainforest areas. Their range is a small range of places, mainly areas with abundant vegetation. The green cover helps them survive as they are arboreal and live exclusively in trees, not on the ground.
These lizards vary in color, and each variant corresponds to a specific area that the species has naturally occupied. Panther chameleons are named according to their locality, followed by the term “chameleon”.
The following types are currently defined:
- Nosy Ankarea;
- Nosy Boraha;
- Nosy Radama;
- Nosy Mits;
- Nosy Faly;
- Nosy Be;
- Tamatave ;
Their natural habitat is coastal rainforests in northern Madagascar. Outside the island, as pets, they are found all over the world as pets and as invasive species in Réunion and Mauritius.
What does the panther chameleon eat?
The panther chameleon mainly feeds on a variety of worms that are available in the wild, as well as insects: crickets, grasshoppers, cockroaches, etc. Ambient temperature affects the amount of food eaten. The Madagascar panther chameleon regulates the level of vitamin D3 in its body, as it their diet of insects is a poor source. To do this, they are exposed to sunlight, as its ultraviolet component increases the internal production of this vitamin.
Interesting fact! Thanks to the unique properties of the eyes, which can rotate and focus separately, observing two objects at the same time, they get a full all-round view. When the panther chameleon detects prey, it focuses its eyes in one direction, providing clear stereoscopic vision and perception. This allows them to see small insects well from a large (5–10 m) distance.
The panther chameleon has a very long tongue that allows it to quickly capture prey (sometimes its length exceeds the length of the body). It hits prey in about 0.0030 s. The tongue of a chameleon is a complex system of bone, tendons, and muscles. The bone located at the base of the tongue helps to quickly throw it out, giving the organ the initial impulse necessary to capture prey.
At the tip of the elastic tongue there is a muscular tangle-like structure covered with thick mucus, a kind of sucker. As soon as the tip sticks to the object of prey, it is instantly drawn back into the mouth, where the strong jaws of the chameleon panther crush it, and it is absorbed.
Character and lifestyle features
These reptiles are tree dwellers. They move along branches to large bushes and hunt for their prey. Panther chameleons are extremely territorial animals and spend most of their lives alone in their territory.
Their color changes have a variety of meanings:
- Yellow indicates anger or aggression;
- Light blue indicates that the chameleon wants to impress another individual;
- Green indicates a calm and relaxed state;
- Light tones indicate the intention to mate.
It is a misconception that any chameleon can change color to match the color of its environment. All chameleons have a natural color scheme that they are born with and it is dictated by their species. It all depends on temperature, mood and light. If, for example, purple is not in the range of colors that that particular species can change to, then it will never be purple.
Panther chameleon by residence:
- In the areas of Nosy Be, Ankif and Ambandja, as a rule, bright blue;
- Ambilube, Antsiranana and Sambava — red, green or orange;
- The areas of Maroantsetra and Tamatave are predominantly red specimens;
- In addition, there are numerous other transitional phases and patterns in intermediate areas between and within certain regions.
The structure of the legs allows the panther chameleon to hold tightly to narrow branches. Each toe is equipped with a sharp claw to gain momentum while moving on surfaces such as tree trunks and bark while moving. Panther chameleons can live up to 5-7 years. Although in captivity, some specimens appear to live for years. Males usually outlive females.
Social structure and reproduction
Panther chameleons reach sexual maturity at the age of at least seven months. Usually animals live alone and only during the mating season do they spend time with their partners. The female can lay five to eight clutches in her lifetime, after which she dies due to the stress on her body. These animals are polygamous. The breeding season lasts from January to May. When male chameleons want to mate, they tilt their heads up and down and from side to side.
Curious! In captivity, the female and male never live together peacefully. The female may even starve to death in the presence of the male. However, two females can be safely housed together, and babies from different females can live together as long as they are the same age.
When two male chameleons come face to face in a dispute over a female, they become aggressive, change their color, and puff up their bodies to appear larger. This is a kind of territorial demonstration. The clash usually ends at this stage, and the loser retreats, becoming a dark or gray hue. However, if the encounter does not end in the threat phase, it will lead to further escalation and physical confrontations.
When the female lays her eggs, she turns dark brown or even black with orange stripes. The exact coloration and pattern of fertilized females varies depending on the color phase of the chameleon. Each clutch consists of 10 and 40 eggs. It depends on the quality of food consumed and the subsequent nutrition that the female eats during pregnancy. The time from mating to the appearance of eggs is 3 to 6 weeks. The hatchlings take place 240 days after incubation.
Natural enemies of the panther chameleon
Chameleons are almost on the very low in the food chain and have developed several survival mechanisms. Their eyes move independently of each other, so they look in different directions at the same time. They can also run fast when being chased.
Predators dangerous to panther chameleons include:
- snakes. Chase the animal in the trees. Varieties such as Boomslang and Wine snakes — main perpetrators of the attacks. In particular, boomslangs are a threat to chameleons, as they spend most of their time in trees. They also steal chameleon eggs.
- Birds. They try to grab the panther chameleons in the treetops. However, they are not very successful, because the camouflage of the animal prevents them from seeing through the foliage. Any bird can grab a chameleon panther, but the main threats are birds of the shrike family, clawed cuckoos and hornbills. The “hawk cuckoo” is also identified with a threat to chameleons. Like snakes, birds can also steal eggs.
- People. The biggest threat to chameleons is humans. Chameleons become victims of poachers and people involved in the trade in exotic animals. Pesticides on farmland are poisoning them, and deforestation is reducing habitat. Man is to blame for the forest fires that destroy the ecosystem in Madagascar.
- other mammals. Monkeys sometimes eat chameleons. Although panther chameleons and monkeys do not often live in the same habitat.
Population and species status
Panther chameleons do not have a significant impact on the ecosystem. They prey on many insects and other invertebrates and are thus likely to influence local insect populations and support populations of predators that prey on them. Locals within their distribution range use them relatively rarely.
Panther lizards are not very often used in local cuisine, however, they become victims of catching exotic specimens in the international trade in live animals. The United States, Europe and Asia are the main consumers of these products.
The Panther variety has become one of the most sought after chameleon species in the international pet trade due to its excellent coloration and successful breeding in captivity. From 1977 to 2001, exported panther chameleon chameleons accounted for almost eight percent of total exports of chameleon species to the United States.
After that, more stringent trade quotas were introduced and export levels became stable. There is currently little risk to the population of this species in the wild. Except for the threat from continued habitat loss and modification
Note! According to a 2009 United Press International report, the African continent and the islands associated with it lost 9 million acres of forest and agricultural land per year due to wildfires between 2000 and 2005.
Panther chameleon requires habitat conservation — it is the primary conservation activity necessary to ensure long-term survival. Many species are already in protected areas: nature reserves and parks. But they are still subject to degradation. All security processes must be managed to limit the intrusion of human activity that could threaten the chameleons.