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By: Efraim Harari
The chameleon is a very distinctive and well-known species of lizard that possesses exceptionally unique features. Some of
its more striking features include peculiarprotruding eyes; a long, sticky tongue; crests and horns atop their odd-shaped
heads; and of course their ability to change the color of their skin (although not all chameleons have this capability).
There are over 180 different species of chameleons, and they come in all different shapes, sizes, and colors. Sizes range from less than one inch long to over two feet long. Skin colorings vary by species and can be quite bright and funky. Their colors include pink, blue, red, orange, green, black, brown, light blue, yellow, turquoise, and purple.
One of the most noticeable features of the chameleon is its large, protruding eyes. It probably will come as no surprise to you that chameleons have an excellent sense of sight. Their eyes are very unique, as each eye can move independently from the other, meaning that the chameleon is able to rotate each eye separately and focus on two different images at the same time! This ability gives the chameleon a full 360-degree view around its body.
It is this unique trait that allows chameleons to detect predators and prey from afar. Indeed, chameleons are able to spot tiny insects that are over thirty feet away from them.
Chameleons like to dwell in warm environments such as jungles, rainforests, deserts, and savannas. Their natural habitats are in India, Africa, Southern Europe, Asia, Madagascar, and Southern Europe.
Chameleons spend their lives in trees and bushes. Like most lizards, they have five toes, but the five toes are divided into two groups. On each forefoot, the two outside toes are joined as one group and the three inside toes are joined as another, while on each hind foot, the three outside toes form one group and the two inside ones form another. This makes it easier for the chameleon to grasp branches and achieve stability while walking or climbing trees.
Another tool that most chameleons use while climbing is their long prehensile (able to grasp things) tail. The chameleon is able to wrap its tail around tree branches to help itself keep balanced.
Chameleons generally eat insects, crickets, worms, and snails. Some consume berries and leaves. Some of the larger species also hunt small birds and reptiles.
Due to the generally small size of the chameleon, it is often a prime target for hungry predators (when the chameleon can be seen, that is).
Other tree-dwelling animals such as snakes and birds, as well as some mammals, are the most common predators of the chameleon.
Chameleons can survive between five and eight years in the wild, and over ten years in captivity.
The zikita, which many commentaries describe as the chameleon, is mentioned in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 108b) that discusses the difficulties Noah experienced while in
The Gemara details the following discussion between Avraham’s servant Eliezer and Shem, the son of Noah:
Eliezer asked Shem about life in the teivah during the Mabul. Shem replied, “It was very difficult. Some animals eat only by day, while others feed in the middle of the night. All twelve months in the teivah, we never got to close our eyes.
“My father (Noah) did not know what the chameleon likes to eat and so was unable to feed it. Then one day, my father was cutting a pomegranate, and a worm fell out of it. The chameleon immediately lunged at the worm and ate it. My father then learned what to feed it. After that, we would put aside wet bran and allow it to become wormy; then we would feed the worms to the chameleon.”
Noah and his family acquired great merit for their hard work in feeding the animals at the proper times while in
The Midrash (Tehillim 37:1) describes the famous meeting between Avraham and Malki-tzedek (Parahat Lech Lecha 14:18-21]). Chazal teach that Malki-tzedek was in fact Shem, the son of Noah. “Tell me,” Avraham said to him, “in what merit did you deserve to leave the teivah?”
“In was in the merit of the tzedakah that we did,”
“But there were no poor people there!” Avraham said. “It was just you and your family. To whom did you
“To the animals and the birds,” Shem answered. “We did not sleep at night. We would go from one animal to the next, making sure they had enough to eat.”
can even sleep
Another impressive feature of the chameleon is its long and sticky tongue. The chameleon’s tongue can be one and a half to two times longer than its body (excluding its tail).
The chameleon uses its elongated tongue to capture prey.
A chameleon on the hunt may remain still and wait for an insect (or other prey) to come near, or it may move slowly and quietly along a branch or on the ground. When the chameleon sees its prey, it takes careful aim – and bam! In the blink of an eye, it shoots out its tongue and captures its victim instantly.
The chameleon’s tongue has a sticky tip called a tongue pad, which is used to capture prey. Just when the chameleon unleashes its tongue toward its victim, the tongue turns inside-out and actively reverses to form a pouch. Immediately after, the chameleon’s tongue makes contact with the prey. Once the prey is stuck to the chameleon’s tongue, the chameleon draws it back into its mouth. This sequence of events happens at an incredible speed, as fast as 3.5-10.5 meters per second – which is faster than the human eye can follow!
Once the chameleon consumes its prey, the tongue is kept bunched up at the back of the chameleon’s mouth, until it is needed again.