The Parson’s Chameleon is among the largest chameleons in the world. It is commonly green and endemic to the country of Madagascar. The French naturalist Georges Baron de Cuvier named the Parson’s chameleon to honor eminent British physician James Parsons. It has two recognized subspecies – the common Calumma p. parsonii and the rarer Calumma p. cristifer. This particular chameleon species is also extremely popular as a pet. It is one of the few chameleons to be legally exported.
While not critically endangered, the Parson’s chameleon is at risk due to rampant collecting causing its population in the wild to plummet. As of now, there have been efforts to stop their trade to stabilize the species and prevent further decline.
Face and Eyes: Parson’s chameleon has a few nasal appendages, with the males having a forked nose. Their bulging eyes are bright orange, contrasting with their green skin. They have a discernable yellow lip.
Body and coloration: The Parson’s chameleon is easily recognizable thanks to its odd shape and rough skin. They are generally green in color, with the shades differing in both the sexes, while other variants are morphs. Females appear smaller than their male counterparts having a yellowish, brownish, or greenish body. In contrast, the males are fully green or turquoise.
The Parson’s chameleon resides in the northern and eastern parts of Madagascar.
This chameleon prefers hot and wet environments, primarily the tropical rainforest. However, of late they are known to adjust in cooler climates.
These lizards have also adapted to human habitations, primarily in coffee plantations.
They are omnivores, eating plants, insects, and some small birds.
They thrive for long, males surviving for about 9 years and females for 8 years. The longest lifespan recorded has been 12 years in the wild and 14 years in captivity.
They appear docile, mostly indifferent and unconcerned about things happening around them. However, the males, could turn aggressive and territorial during the courtship phase.
The Parson’s chameleon regulates its temperature by basking in the sun for about 20 minutes before moving to shade.
Like all chameleons, this one too can change its color to match its surroundings. These can be due to external stimuli like light sensitivity and temperature or internal reasons like hormonal changes, physical health, and sexual maturity.
They use their tail for several different purposes, including, but not limited to, clinging to trees, communication, and warding off aggressive males.
This chameleon is arboreal, mostly staying on trees. However, when they lay their eggs, the females dig burrows on the ground using their fore-feet.
The main threats to the Parson’s chameleon include large birds like eagles, buzzards, hawks, shrikes, coucals, hornbills, and owls. They are also preyed upon by snakes.
They have long tongues, about twice the length of their body, allowing them to reach any far-off prey.
The presence of pigment cells called melanophores, help them change their color.
Although the Parson’s chameleon lacks an external “ear,” it can sense sounds and vibrations through an internal sensor.
Their big protruding eyes give them a 360̊ vision, helping in viewing the environment clearly without having to lift their head. As they swivel their eyes around, these lizards can conveniently track fast-moving prey.
The arrangement of their fingers resembles pincers or tongs, a feature seen in most chameleons. This helps them cling to trees conveniently. At the same time, their prehensile tail functions like the fifth limb facilitating better movement.
Mating and Reproduction
The mating season takes place around three months after winter, generally throughout May to October. Males will guard the females during the mating period and leave once the latter become pregnant.
Females usually lay 20 to 60 eggs per clutch. After an incubation period of 3-5 months, the offspring are born. They are independent at birth and reach sexual maturity at 3-5 years, later than most reptiles.
Juveniles have a terracotta-like body color that cracks and sheds off eventually.
The IUCN classifies the Parson’s chameleon as “NT” or Near Threatened. This species is threatened by illegal trading, which has led to massive regulations. Also, the loss of habitat due to shrinking forests is another reason for its population decline.
In some rare cases, the Parson’s chameleon may have two noses.