What Is a Pygmy Chameleon?

Lumara Lee

A pygmy chameleon is a small lizard native to tropical forests and savannahs in Africa. Named for its diminutive size, the adult pygmy chameleon averages 3 to 4 inches (7.6 to 10 centimeters) in length. Coloration ranges from white to the color of fallen leaves, and includes various shades of green, brown, gold, and orange. There are several different species, including bearded, Thiel’s, Kenyan, and pitless pygmy chameleons. Some other species are the rosette-nosed, Montane, horned, and spectral pygmy chameleons.

Pygmy chameleons eat fruit flies.
Pygmy chameleons eat fruit flies.

All pygmy chameleons have the ability to change their color to blend in with their surroundings. They make a buzzing sound when they are stressed, a characteristic that may have been developed to frighten predators. These tiny reptiles spend most of their time on the ground, vulnerable to becoming prey, so their ability to change color is generally their only protection.

Crickets are often part of a pygmy chameleon's diet.
Crickets are often part of a pygmy chameleon's diet.

Some pygmy chameleons display other qualities unique to their species. For example, the pitless pygmy chameleon has the same brown coloration as a dead leaf, with dark lines resembling veins. This species is slightly larger than other pygmy chameleons, with a length at maturity between 5 and 7 inches (12.7 and 18 centimeters).

The bearded pygmy chameleon is named after the raised scales located below its mouth. This species isn’t as colorful as some other chameleons, spending most of its time sporting various shades of brown when not changing color for camouflage. It can even flatten its body shape slightly and form a dark stripe on its back to fool predators into seeing it as a leaf.

Female pygmy chameleons are generally larger than males, with wider, more rounded bodies and shorter tails. They reproduce sexually, and then several weeks after fertilization dig a hole and lay their eggs. Each female can reproduce approximately four times a year, laying four to six eggs in each clutch.

A pygmy chameleon’s diet consists of live prey such as mealworms, fruit flies, and small crickets. They catch their prey with long, sticky tongues. Their small size makes them appealing pets for people who have limited space or a limited budget since they don’t require as much space as most other lizards. The pygmy chameleon is delicate due to its tiny size and must be handled carefully to avoid injury. Kenyan pygmy and bearded pygmy chameleons are the ones most commonly found in pet stores, but some other species are occasionally available as well.

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