Smithsonian National Zoological Park l Friends of the National Zoo



Veiled Chameleon


Order: Squamata
Family: Chamaeleonidae
Genus/species: Chamaeleo calyptratus


Veiled chameleons are one of about 80 species of Old World chameleons, also called true chameleons. They are aggressive and brightly colored. They have a casque, a helmet-like ridge, on top of their heads, which is a tiny swelling as a hatchling, but grows to two inches (5 cm) in height as the animal matures. As hatchlings, they are usually a pastel green, but as they mature they acquire bold bands of bright gold, green, and blue, mixed with yellow, orange, or black, that circle their body. The males are usually more strikingly colored than the females, which are usually shades of green mottled with shades of tan, orange, white, and sometimes yellow.

There is marked sexual dimorphism. Males have a larger body and casque when mature than females. Male body length can reach between 17 and 24 inches (43 to 61 cm) from head to the tip of the tail and they are usually thin in appearance. Females reach between 10 and 14 inches (25 to 35.5 cm) in length. The female's casque is smaller than the males, and they are more heavy-bodied.

A Specialized Lizard

Chameleons are specialized tree-living lizards that catching insect prey. Their bodies are flattened from side to side, and more or less leaf-shaped. They remain still and concealed for long periods of time and wait for their prey to come near. When they move, they do so slowly, and rock their bodies from side to side like a leaf in the wind.


They have eyes that can move independently and look in two directions at once, as well as swivel nearly 180 degrees. They are therefore able to look in any direction, and even follow moving objects, without turning their heads or shifting body position. When a prey animal is spotted, both eyes will focus on the insect in order to perceive depth.

Hands and Tail

Chameleons are highly arboreal (tree-living). They have grasping hands that work much like human hands. Three fingers are fused together and face toward the inside. They also have a prehensile tail that they use as a fifth appendage.

Color Changes

Chameleons are famous for their ability to change color. The color change serves only partly for camouflage. Although chameleons at rest tend to assume colors similar to their surroundings, color change is most often used to signify emotional state. Many chameleons are some shade of green or brown at rest, but can become far more brightly colored when frightened, courting, or defending a territory against another chameleon. Veiled chameleons when startled or threatened may darken in color and "play possum."

Interaction with Mates

They are primarily solitary and males are very territorial. Males and females tolerate each other only during breeding.

Distribution and Habitat

Veiled chameleons are native to Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia, and reside in an amazing variety of different habitats. They can be found in the dry plateaus, mountains, and river valleys. They are arboreal, preferring to live in trees, bushes, or shrubs. They prefer temperatures of 75° to 95°F (24° to 35°C) and can be found in elevations up to 3,000 feet (914 m).

Diet in the Wild

The veiled chameleon is an insectivore. It may also eat leaves as a source of water during the dry seasons.

Zoo Diet

They are fed crickets daily.


They reach sexual maturity within four to five months, at 8 to 12 inches long. Breeding may occur up to three times a year. Females change colors within 18 hours of a successful mating. Egg laying occurs between 20 and 30 days after mating, with clutch sizes ranging from 35 to 85 eggs. The white, oval, tough-skinned eggs are buried in warm sand.

Life Span

The lifespan of a veiled chameleon may be up to five years for females and up to eight years for males.


They are not listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The veiled chameleon is the most commonly bred and available species of its genus in the pet trade. The popularity of the veiled chameleon is due to a number of factors. Veiled chameleons are relatively hardy, large, beautiful, and prolific. Because they are found in a variety of habitats naturally, this species is tolerant of temperature and humidity extremes, which contributes to its hardiness in captivity.

However, wild chameleons are sold for rituals and souvenirs. For example, some believe that throwing a live chameleon into a fire will bring good luck. The growing demand by tourists for chameleon “souvenirs” puts pressure on chameleon populations.

Like those of many other animals, wild chameleon populations are experiencing pressures from commercial exploitation and extensive habitat loss. Chameleon populations are particularly sensitive to the problems associated with habitat loss because many chameleon populations have evolved in small, often isolated pockets and are unable to relocate.

Fun Facts

They are probably best known for their long, sticky tongues that they use to catch prey. The tongue can be more than 1.5 times the length of their body. They "shoot" their prey with a tongue that can be projected in the blink of an eye.

Source of Information

All or part of this information was provided by the Animal Diversity Web and Museum of Zoology of the University of Michigan.
It appears here with their permission. The original author of this information was Ebony Jones.

For more information, including references, see the Animal Diversity Web account for this species, here:
http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/ site/ accounts/ information/ Chamaeleo_calyptratus.html.