Photo of the Month: Meller’s Chameleon

By Megan Runquist Holmstedt

Meller’s Chameleon; PHOTO CREDIT: Jamie Pham

Status: The Meller’s chameleon (Trioceros melleri) is listed as Least Concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) due to its relatively large range and the lack of major threats to its habitat. However, this reptile is threatened by overcollection for the international pet trade, where it is difficult to care for and is highly susceptible to stress.

Habitat: This chameleon lives in the trees of savanna woodland in East Africa – from eastern Tanzania to northern Mozambique and southeastern Malawi.

Diet: This carnivorous lizard eats insects such as locusts and cockroaches as well as spiders, small lizards, and even hatchling birds: anything that moves and is the right size. It ambushes its prey with a lightning-fast, ballistic tongue, which can measure up to 20 inches in length.

As with all chameleons, this species changes colors in response to stress and to communicate with others; its normal appearance is deep green with yellow stripes. Additionally, it is well adapted to its arboreal lifestyle: its prehensile tail provides stability in the treetops, and its toes are fused into two opposable mits, allowing the chameleon to securely grasp narrow or rough branches.

With a body length of roughly 20 inches, the Meller’s chameleon is the largest chameleon on mainland Africa (approximately half of the world’s chameleons live on the island of Madagascar). It is also called the “giant one-horned chameleon” because of its size and the small horn protruding from the front of its snout.

The Zoo’s Meller’s chameleons can be seen on exhibit in the LAIR; they share an enclosure with a Madagascar radiated tortoise and a Madagascar spider tortoise.