Every Kid Should Have a Favorite Lizard

Eyes on the Side of its head and Teeth Like a Shark

by Victor Lien, age 13

    A reptile, in search of prey, sits on a branch…waiting. It smells something. An insect flies in its direction. Snap! The insect is consumed with the dart of a tongue, in just 25 hundredths of a second. The Jackson’s Chameleon has made another stealthy attack.
    Aside from being a great hunter, the chameleon has a lot of interesting adaptations. Eyes on the side of its head spot predators, or follow prey such as insects, spiders, and scorpions. To eat these, the chameleon has rows of sharp, pointy teeth on both jaws, similar to those of a shark. These allow them to chew their food quickly. The chameleon’s feet and legs are also marvelous features. They are made for life in the trees, with a clamp-like grip that helps them hold onto branches.
    The Jackson is one of many different kinds of chameleons that live in the Mediterranean, Africa, and Asia. This specific chameleon lives in vegetation in the East African Highlands, western slopes of Mount Kenya, Aberdare Mountains of Kenya, and the Usambara Mountains of Tanzania.
    The chameleon’s mating season lasts most of the year. And it can mate when it is nine to twelve months old. Because there are different kinds of chameleons in the same habitat, Jackson’s Chameleon finds a partner using a specific color code for their species. If a female chameleon does not have the right color code, a male chameleon does not mate with her, but if she does, males will compete for her. This is done in long, slow fights, using their horns.
    Another interesting fact about this chameleon is that a female keeps fertile eggs inside her body until the embryos are fully developed. Then, the female secures the thinly coated, sticky eggs carefully onto a branch. Up to 40 two-inch babies, that are almost a complete mini copy of the adult, emerge immediately.
    The coolest trait of the chameleon has to be its ability to change color. The way it works is fascinating. The animal moves its pigments in the skin, which has many layers filled with different and complex color cells, chameleons have the power to change color at will. For example, when irritated, it will turn pale or dark. It will darken to absorb heat or turn to a shade of green when relaxing.
    The chameleon got its name from the Greek words chamai leon, which means “dwarf lion.” This description refers to its aggressive state when it threatens enemies with its hissing and horns. When it hisses, it also shows the red inner lining of its mouth. It is a very brutal display.
    Overall, this reptile is a versatile and unique creature. It has a lot of great adaptations, such as a long tongue, turret eyes, and camouflage. Jackson’s Chameleon is an amazing animal, as well as one of my favorites.

[Source: Wildlife Explorer]