A large chameleon endemic to Madagascar, the panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) is an arboreal reptilian which has also been introduced to Mauritius and Réunion. This vividly bright species is perfectly adapted to live in the tropical forests of northern Madagascar…
The panther chameleon has a long tongue which they use to capture their insect prey; the tongue fires out at great speed, stunning and enveloping prey. Then, they are drawn back into their mouth, crushed and consumed. In addition, their long, prehensile tail acts as a third limb whilst up in the trees, wrapping around branches and helping them climb. Their feet are clawed and spilt, with their toes arranged into groups of two and three on opposite sides of their foot which helps them to easily traverse through the dense foliage with a sturdy grip (animals with this toe arrangement are referred to as zygodactylous).
It would be a dire disservice to the panther chameleon to not mention their colour changing ability. Males are more vibrantly coloured than females and their colouring significantly varies based on their location. In this particular species, their vibrant colours (ranging from reds to blues to greens to yellows) are not used for camouflage but as an indicator of mood and social status. When males come up against a rival, they inflate their body and change colour in order to assert dominance over their competitor. From a biological perspective, their striking colours are caused by cells called chromatophores which contain pigments – they change size and colour based on their mood.
Another unique adaptation of the panther chameleon are the distinctive ‘gun turret’ eyes. Each eye is able to rotate and focus independently so one eye can be looking out for potential predators whilst the other can be in search of prey.
The panther chameleon is a wonderfully unique species, which has cleverly evolved over millions of years, making them suitably adapted to their habitat. Being native to Madagascar, the panther chameleon has been allowed to evolve independently, along with hundreds of other Madagascan species, many of which are found nowhere else. For this reason, it is vital that the fragile habitats and ecosystems of Madagascar are protected and conserved. The beautiful uniqueness and vivid patterns of the panther chameleon make it one of the most intriguing species to me.