The largest chameleon in the world, Parson’s chameleon belongs to a unique family of lizards exhibiting some bizarre traits. With a large, triangular head, conical, independently-moving eyes, laterally compressed body, and fused toes, the chameleon has looks as strange as its behaviour. All chameleon species are capable of colour change, which is not only for camouflage as is generally assumed. It may also be a response to other chameleons (when fighting or mating), temperature, as well as the surroundings. Particularly comical when walking, they have an odd gait, moving with diagonally opposite limbs. The toes are fused into two opposable pads, giving mitten-like feet that are efficient for gripping branches. The tongue may be up to twice the length of the body, and has a bulbous sticky tip which is used to catch its prey (3). This enormous chameleon has ridges running from above the eyes to the nose forming two warty horns. Its colour varies from green, turquoise and yellow, and juveniles may have an orange sheen. The lips and eyelids of adults are sometimes yellow or orange and there may be pale yellow or white spots on the flanks (4).
There are two subspecies of Parson’s chameleon: Calumma parsonii cristifer reaches just 47 cm, has a small dorsal crest, and is bluer in colour whereas Calumma parsonii parsonii is the larger of the two, reaching up to 68 cm, and has no crests at all (4).
- Also known as
- Parson’s giant chameleon.
- Chamaeleo madecasseus.
- Length: 47 – 68 cm (2)
Parson’s chameleon biology
In aggressive fights at the start of the breeding season, males butt their heads together to determine dominance. Females mate only once every two years, producing 20 - 25 eggs that incubate for a massive 20 months. The young are independent as soon as they hatch (5).
A solitary species outside the mating season, this large chameleon hunts during the day for large insects and small vertebrates amongst the branches of trees. It is able to change colour in response to the temperature, its surroundings or the presence of other chameleons (5).
Parson’s chameleon range
Houston’s chameleon is endemic to the central eastern forests of Madagascar (5).
Species with a similar range
Parson’s chameleon habitat
Calumma parsonii parsonii inhabits cool forested regions whereas Calumma parsonii cristifer is found in mountainous primary forests (4).
Species found in a similar habitat
Parson’s chameleon status
Parson’s chameleon is classified as Near Threatened (NT) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (2).
Parson’s chameleon threats
The appealing appearance and behaviour of chameleons makes them popular pets, and as the largest chameleon species, Parson’s chameleon has certainly suffered population declines due to over-collection for international trade. The unique habitats of Madagascar are threatened by human activities, including urbanisation and land clearance for agriculture (5).
Parson’s chameleon conservation
Many conservation groups are working to prevent the collapse of Madagascan native fauna and flora, and the future of Parson’s chameleon depends on the outcome of this work. Trade in Parson’s chameleon is regulated by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora through its listing on Appendix II (2).
Find out more
For further information on this species see:
For further information on chameleons see:
Halliday, T. & Alder, K (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
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- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- Primary forest
- Forest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.