28 Parson’s Chameleon Facts (No One Talks About)

Chameleons are very unique and special animals! Today, we are going to look specifically at the Parson’s chameleon, which is truly a one of a kind reptile. Read on for some awesome facts about this animal! 

1. How big is the Parson’s chameleon?

The Parson’s chameleon is the largest living chameleon in the world! And they have a lot of competition- according to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), there are 171 different types of chameleons all over the world.

The Parson’s chameleon can grow to be up to 27 inches long! (By comparison, the smallest chameleon in the world is the leaf chameleon, and they do not grow to be more than half an inch!) 

2. Parson’s chameleon nose is uuuuge

The Parson’s chameleon has some distinct features, such as its Pinocchio-like nose! These chameleons have large nasals appendages, and this is one way that they can be easily distinguished from other chameleon species.

Male Parson’s chameleons have also been known to have forked noses, and in rare instances, they have been known to have not one but two noses! 

3. Where do Parson’s chameleons live?

The Parson’s chameleon can only be found (in the wild) on the eastern side of the island nation of Madagascar. There, they can usually be found in the country’s wettest forests in both high and low elevations.

Sometimes, these chameleons can be found on the coast. Still, they usually are in the forests with canopies since those regions of the country remain consistently warm and humid throughout the year. 

4. How many subspecies of Parson’s chameleon are there?

There are two subspecies of Parson’s chameleons- and they both prefer different places to live! There is:

  • the Calumma parsonii cristifer, which mainly lives in unharvested forests in the mountains, and
  • the Calumma parsonii parsonii, which can be found in lower elevations in the cooler, denser forests.  

5. How do they look like?

The two subspecies also have a little bit of a different look. The Calumma parsonii parsonii has duller colors and they do not have the dorsal crests (the crests on the back of the chameleon’s body) that the other subspecies have. 

Calumma parsonii cristifer has more blue tones on their body, and they have a dorsal crest, which can reach up to 18 inches! 

6. Their feet are – different

These chameleons have zygodactylous feet – this means that both their front and back legs have two toes that point forward, and two toes that point backward! This is beneficial for the Parson’s chameleon because it helps them to be stable while walking and climbing on the trees that they love to be in. 

7. Parson’s tail

On top of their zygodactylous feet, the Parson’s chameleon also has powerful tails that they use to grip and climb. They like to live on trees, so these adaptations help them greatly.  

8. How did Parson’s chameleon get its name?

The Parson’s chameleon was named after James Parsons. In 1824, a French naturalist named Georges Baron de Cuvier discovered this chameleon and he decided to name him after Parsons, who was a physician in England and who was also interested in naturalism.

Sadly, Parsons died 54 years before his namesake chameleon was discovered. 

9. How are they born?

Parson’s chameleons have a unique start to life – female chameleons lay their eggs and then the egg incubates for a year and a half before they hatch out of the egg! No other chameleon in the world has this long of an incubation period.

During the year and a half period, it has been discovered that the eggs go through “diapauses” during the rainy season. During this time, the development becomes stagnant. Then, near the beginning of the second rainy season, the baby chameleon cuts the shell open with its “egg tooth.” 

10. Baby Parson’s chameleon is tiny

The baby Parson’s chameleon is very tiny- they are only a couple of centimeters tall! Right from this time, they are ready to begin hunting on their own, and they are completely independent. 

11. Parson’s diet

These chameleons are omnivores, which means that they eat a combination of both plant and animal matter. The biggest part of their diet comes from eating insects. Some of their favorite insects to eat include praying mantises, tiger beetles, ground beetles, the Madagascan sunset moth, and the Madagascar hissing cockroach.

Some scientists also believe that they also eat some small mammals, lizards, and birds. They use their long, sticky tongues to get their prey. Their tongue acts like a suction cup and once the prey is attached to it, it is not coming off anytime soon. Then the chameleon swallows their food whole. 

12. They eat plants too

Plant wise, Parson’s chameleons will eat leaves, wood, bark, and stems. 

13. How do they hunt?

While a chameleon is hunting, they will stay completely still except for their eyes. This is because the Parson’s chameleon can completely scan its entire habitat by just moving its eyes. 

14. Parson’s predators

Even though these chameleons are large, they do have some predators. Large birds, such as buzzards, eagles, hawks, hornbills, shrikes, and owls, are their biggest predators. Snakes will also prey on these chameleons. For the small, young Parson’s chameleons, they also have to look out for lemurs.  

15. How do they defend?

In order to defend themselves from these predators, the Parson’s chameleon will drop from the tree branch that they are on and simply lay on the ground and play dead. They can move quickly away from predators, but most of the time, they use the faking dead method instead of fleeing.  

16. Give me some sun

Like all chameleons, the Parson’s chameleon is ectothermic. This means that they must bask in the sun to maintain their body temperature. They usually bask in the sun for increments of about 20 minutes at a time, and then they head back to the shade.  

17. Parson’s chameleons are diurnal

Chameleons are diurnal, which means that they are active during the day and they rest at night. As dusk is approaching, these chameleons will seek a place to rest, usually, on the same tree they spent their day on. 

18. They are chameleons, after all

Chameleons are known for their special ability to change their skin color, and the Parson’s chameleon is no different! They have special pigment cells called melanophores.

Melanophores contain melanin. The melanin controls how much light is reflected. Parson’s chameleons can change the color of their skin due to a response to their surroundings, the temperature, and the amount of light present.

Their coloring is also impacted by their physical health and the number of hormones that they have. 

19. Males can be aggressive

Male Parson’s chameleons will also change their color to show their aggression during courtship. Males will also coil their tails and whip them forward during periods of aggression. This acts as yet another way for them to communicate.  

20. Parson’s chameleons are arboreal

Parson’s chameleons are arboreal, which means that they live in trees. Because of this, they are rarely on the ground, except for when they are trying to get away from predators, and they are playing dead.  

21. How do they mate?

The mating season for Parson’s chameleons is in September, which is during the rainy season. A male will slowly swing and nod their head to show a female chameleon that they are interested in them. The female will then respond in one of two ways- if she is already pregnant, she will hiss, but she will let the mating happen if she is not. 

22. How many eggs do they lay?

Female chameleons usually lay about 20 to 40 eggs at a time. She digs a deep hole in the earth between some tree roots to lay her eggs in, and then she will cover the nest with soil and foliage so that predators cannot find the eggs easily. That is the end of her parenting duties- adult chameleons are not involved in their offspring’s lives at all. 

23. Are they endangered?

Sadly, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the Parson’s chameleon on the “red list.” This means that they are near threatened. This is because their natural habitat in Madagascar is dwindling.  

24. They are colorful

Researchers have observed that there seem to be four different color variations for the Parson’s chameleon and these variations occur in different parts of Madagascar. There are the “orange eyes,” the “yellow giants,” the “green giants,” and the “yellow lips.” 

25. How long do they live?

The Parson’s chameleon has one of the longest life spans of all chameleons. On average, Parson’s chameleons live for about 10 to 12 years in the wild (with males usually living longer) and up to 14 years in captivity.  

26. Female chameleons

Females are generally smaller than males, and their colors are not as vibrant. Usually, female Parson’s chameleons are a combination of green, yellow, and brown, but they may also have a bit of an orange tint in their skin color.  

27. They are protected

The Parson’s chameleon is listed on the CITES Appendix II list, which is a list that controls the trade of different species. While most chameleon species from Madagascar (and 67 different chameleon species call Madagascar home) cannot be exported from the island, this law says that a limited number of Parson’s chameleons may be legally exported every year.  

28. Parson’s chameleons don’t move a lot

For the most part, these chameleons do not move around a lot – they will often stay in the same tree day in and day out. On average, the home range of the Parson’s chameleon is 3 to 40 feet. 

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