In Case You’d Forgotten, Chameleons Are Amazing

Here are a few cool facts about chameleons: They can move their eyes independently, change color at will and shoot out their tongues to twice the length of their bodies to capture prey.

A stunning new National Geographic clip highlights these and other unique attributes and describes the incredible variety within the chameleon family — there are 202 different species ranging in color and size.

Scientists have made some striking discoveries about chameleons in recent years, most notably about the way they change color. Their technicolor skin isn’t primarily used to blend in, as scientists used to believe. It’s actually “mostly for communication,” National Geographic’s Patricia Edmonds notes. “It’s the lizard using colorful language, expressing itself about things that affect it: courtship, competition, environmental stress.”

As for their tongues? Scientists used to think chameleons shot them out by filling them with blood or inflating them with air. But they now know that the lizards’ tongues actually function like a bow, using a spring-loaded system of bone, elastic tissue and muscle to snatch prey at 13 miles per hour.

The wildlife publication will feature the animals in its upcoming September issue. Nearly 40 percent of all chameleon species were classified as endangered or critically endangered in the most recent Red List assessment, released by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Many of the creatures are struggling to stay alive as habitat alteration and deforestation threaten to wipe them out.

Some chameleons are highly specialized, and can only be found in specific habitats. Forty-two percent of them live on the island of Madagascar, off Africa’s east coast.

You can read Nat Geo’s entire feature on chameleons here, or take a look at the creatures’ incredible color-changing mechanism here.

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