Namibia’s Flap-Neck Chameleon

Chameleons are perhaps most famous for their ability to change colour, a characteristic that has seen the term chameleon adopted in popular language to mean someone changeable or who unconsciously mimics others. Colour to another colour change are integral to all aspects of chameleon behaviour, including social, thermoregulatory, antipredator and foraging behaviour. Despite their fascinating characteristics, the life history and ecology of chameleons have been little explored, leading to a significant gap in our understanding of lizard ecology. Chameleons have evolved a unique set of traits that allow them to occupy a highly specialized niche. Typical chameleons have telescopic eyes, a prehensile tail, and a somewhat ‘‘ballistic’’ tongue that can exceed the length of their entire body. These features allow chameleons to hunt with stealth which makes them unique within the reptile world and so with may enable them to be less conspicuous to predators during prey capture. Given the central importance of colour and colour change to chameleons, it is not surprising that vision is their most important sense and that communication is primarily via the use of visual signals as such. Regarding their size, these reptiles reach a general size of about 20cm but large specimens have been reported at a length of about 40cm, which is quite astounding. (photo by fiveprime)

Colouration and colour change in chameleons is a function of specialized cells referred to as “chromatophores.” The colour change occurs because of the movement of pigment-containing organelles within chromatophores. For example, the darkening of the skin is a result of the concentration or dispersions of motile vesicles “packets” containing melanin pigment (also referred to as the melanosomes) triggered inside the Chameleon Behavior and Colour Change within the melanophores. When the melanosomes are aggregated within the centre of the cell, the skin appears very pale, whereas when they are dispersed throughout the dendrites to the skin’s surface, the skin appears dark. Varying the degree of dispersion of the melanosomes blocks reflectance of the iridophores but not the xanthophores or erythrophores, so the skin appears yellow-red. But as we ourselves are not scientists, this will be as much as we can tell you about this beautiful phenomenon.

Image above: Flap-Neck Chameleon just hanging out and enjoying the Sunshine (photo by My Chameleon Online).

Namibia’s Flap-Neck Chameleon (latin classification: Chamaeleo dilepis) is known for being one of the world’s most widespread chameleons. Not just found in Namibia but also widely dispersed throughout southern Africa, westwards to Nigeria and northwards to Ethiopia. Their general Habitat is found in a large variety, but in most parts high in trees or bushes. Biome’s include Grasslands, Forests, Savannas and Azonal Vegetations. Due to their large spread and being a fairly common reptile, there are no conservational measures known which have been put in to place. The flap-necked chameleon is one of the most extensively exported chameleon species with almost 50,000 individuals exported between 1977 and 2001. Unfortunately, their greatest threat comes from the ever-growing demand from the Chinese Market, who offer them as a deep-fried culinary treat on street markets, in certain African Food Markets and the northern America pet/reptile trade.


Image above (left) shows dried chameleons which we presume to be offered as a medicinal cure (Kejetia Market in Kumasi, Ghana – Image by Caloribi). In addition, chameleons are often found on Chinese street markets being deep fried on a skewer. The right image shows fried chameleons available as Street Food from an unknown Chinese market (image by

Something very interesting is the cultural connection between this reptile and the Oshiwambo culture (and other specific cultures). In past generations and for many up to this day, the chameleon is considered as “the Devil” in reptile form. However, this will not be true for every Oshiwambo individual(!). There is a general form of avoidance when it comes to the encounter of this creature (hence often being killed once sighted).

Chameleons are polygamous. Males may mate with more than one female and females may mate with different males during the same or different ovarian cycles. Females are known to mate repeatedly with the same male during the relatively brief period of receptivity within an ovarian cycle. Whether a female will mate with more than one male within an ovarian cycle is likely to depend on male density (and therefore encounter rate) and the intensity of mate guarding or territoriality. If given the opportunity, however, females will mate with more than one male when receptive. As far as we know, Males may sequentially guard up to eight females, although not all guarding episodes result in successful copulation or reproduction. Males cease guarding shortly after mating when the female shows clear signs that she is no longer receptive. Spatial organization in this species is complex and varies depending on the nature of female home ranges. Some males defend stable nonoverlapping home ranges (i.e., territories) that incorporate the home range of one or more females when females have small, stable home ranges. Other males simply follow and defend an area around a guarded female if her movements are more erratic. But we highly question if this behaviour is true for all chameleon species(?).

Image above showing Namaqua chameleon (Chamaeleo namaquensis), relaxing on a rock somewhere in the Namib Desert (image by Adobe Stock). Note: NOT a Flap-Neck Chameleon

It has been well studied that apparently male chameleons engage in ritualized aggressive displays, which may escalate to physical combat in some species and may sometimes result in injury. The prevalence and intensity of male aggressive behaviour in chameleons suggest that male-male competition is likely to be important in gaining access to receptive females and preventing other males from doing so, which is so often found in nature as such. When threatened, the flap-necked chameleon presents a dramatic display, rocking from side-to-side, while raising its neck flaps, expanding its throat pouch and gaping its mouth giving of a type of hissing sound, similar to felines. Also, these beautiful reptiles turn dark grey to almost black-ish in colour. So if you see one hissing and being rather dark in contrast, you know this little being is “pissed-off” and trying to defend itself.

Most of us in Namibia love this little creature dearly. So should you come across one trying to cross the road, then stop your vehicle and help this little one out. He/She might hiss at you all it wants but just touch it gently and place it on the next tree or bush nearby. Don’t worry, should they try to bite your hand it won’t be painful or poisonous whatsoever. Remember, their biggest weapon of defence isn’t just the changing of colours but also their tongue. So there is no concern regarding bite-marks or any forms of personal hurt. A small bite from a chameleon hurts less than a bite from a mosquito. Just handle them gently hence their bodies are indeed very sensitive to outside applied physical pressure! Also, please don’t drop or throw them. Please!!! It’s very likely that they won’t survive the impact. 

     + One of the coolest Video Clip which we could find on a Chameleon changing colour:

• If you would like to know more about the amazing functions and the science behind the chameleon tongue than download this .pdf here!

     + Some of our past Blog Posts with similar Information:

• Namibia’s Naja Anchietae-Anchieta’s Cobra

• Snakebite Help-Guide