Veiled chameleon

Chamaeleo calyptratus

This kaleidoscopic, cone-headed lizard with swiveling eyes is native to the southwestern region of the Arabian Peninsula.

Veiled chameleon behavior and facts

  • Also known as the cone-head chameleon, this lizard is named for the sharkfin-like casque on its head, which channels dew and condensation into its mouth.
  • Veiled chameleons possess a sticky, spring-loaded tongue that can be launched one and a half times their own body length to capture prey.
  • They have a broad appetite that includes insects, flowers, leaves and even small birds and mammals.
  • These tree-dwelling reptiles are masters of disguise, able to quickly change patterns and colors from black and white to red, green, yellow, orange or blue. They can also laterally compress their bodies to appear thinner and more branch-like.
  • In their native Yemen and Saudi Arabia, veiled chameleons inhabit any arboreal habitat, including woodlands, tree-lined roadways and gardens.
  • Veiled chameleons are among the most common of the roughly 80 species of chameleons kept as pets. Released or escaped veiled chameleons have established colonies in both Florida and Hawaii. In Hawaii, they are considered invasive.
  • Scientists have found evidence that veiled chameleons may communicate by creating vibrations on plants.

Reproduction and life history

  • While some chameleons give birth to live young, veiled chameleons lay eggs – from 30 to 95 per clutch, three times per year.
  • Females lay their eggs in a hole they dig in the ground.
  • Eggs hatch after around six months.
  • Lifespan: up to eight years in the wild

Vital statistics

  • Length: up to two feet

Status

IUCN least concern. Veiled chameleons play an important role in their native ecosystem, but their expert camouflage ability, high rate of reproduction, tolerance of a wide variety of habitats and voracious appetites make them a dangerous and difficult-to-eradicate invasive species. Escaped or released pet chameleons pose threats to native wildlife in Hawaii, where state law prohibits importing and transporting a variety of exotic reptiles.

Veiled chameleons, the Oregon Zoo and you

You can see the zoo's veiled chameleon at the zoo's Predators of the Serengeti exhibit.