Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Chameleon


Stretching elastic tissues and using their recoil to power movement allows organisms to release energy more rapidly than by muscle contraction directly, thus amplifying power output. Chameleons employ such a mechanism to ballistically project their tongue up to two body lengths, achieving power outputs nearly three times greater than those possible via muscle contraction. Additionally, small organisms tend to be capable of greater performance than larger species performing similar movements. To test the hypothesis that small chameleon species outperform larger species during ballistic tongue projection, performance was examined during feeding among 20 chameleon species in nine genera. This revealed that small species project their tongues proportionately further than large species, achieving projection distances of 2.5 body lengths. Furthermore, feedings with peak accelerations of 2,590 m s(-2), or 264 g, and peak power output values of 14,040 W kg(-1) are reported. These values represent the highest accelerations and power outputs reported for any amniote movement, highlighting the previously underestimated performance capability of the family. These findings show that examining movements in smaller animals may expose movements harbouring cryptic power amplification mechanisms and illustrate how varying metabolic demands may help drive morphological evolution.

Concepts: Evolution, Metabolism, Biology, Organism, Species, Genus, Tongue, Chameleon


Amniotes possess variability in sex determining mechanisms, however, this diversity is still only partially known throughout the clade and sex determining systems still remain unknown even in such a popular and distinctive lineage as chameleons (Squamata: Acrodonta: Chamaeleonidae). Here, we present evidence for female heterogamety in this group. The Malagasy giant chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti) (chromosome number 2n = 22) possesses heteromorphic Z and W sex chromosomes with heterochromatic W. The panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) (2n = 22 in males, 21 in females), the second most popular chameleon species in the world pet trade, exhibits a rather rare Z1Z1Z2Z2/Z1Z2W system of multiple sex chromosomes, which most likely evolved from W-autosome fusion. Notably, its neo-W chromosome is partially heterochromatic and its female-specific genetic content has expanded into the previously autosomal region. Showing clear evidence for genotypic sex determination in the panther chameleon, we resolve the long-standing question of whether or not environmental sex determination exists in this species. Together with recent findings in other reptile lineages, our work demonstrates that female heterogamety is widespread among amniotes, adding another important piece to the mosaic of knowledge on sex determination in amniotes needed to understand the evolution of this important trait.

Concepts: Human, Male, Chromosome, Sex, Reptile, Gamete, Sex-determination system, Chameleon


One of the most distinctive traits found within Chamaeleonidae is their split/cleft autopodia and the simplified and divergent morphology of the mesopodial skeleton. These anatomical characteristics have facilitated the adaptive radiation of chameleons to arboreal niches. To better understand the homology of chameleon carpal and tarsal elements, the process of syndactyly, cleft formation, and how modification of the mesopodial skeleton has played a role in the evolution and diversification of chameleons, we have studied the Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus). We analysed limb patterning and morphogenesis through in situ hybridization, in vitro whole embryo culture and pharmacological perturbation, scoring for apoptosis, clefting, and skeletogenesis. Furthermore, we framed our data within a phylogenetic context by performing comparative skeletal analyses in 8 of the 12 currently recognized genera of extant chameleons.

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Developmental biology, Greek loanwords, Chameleon, Veiled Chameleon, Chamaeleo, Chameleons


Lizards and snakes exhibit colour variation of adaptive value for thermoregulation, camouflage, predator avoidance, sexual selection and speciation. Furcifer pardalis, the panther chameleon, is one of the most spectacular reptilian endemic species in Madagascar, with pronounced sexual dimorphism and exceptionally large intraspecific variation in male coloration. We perform here an integrative analysis of molecular phylogeography and colour variation after collecting high-resolution colour photographs and blood samples from 324 F. pardalis individuals in locations spanning the whole species distribution. First, mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence analyses uncover strong genetic structure among geographically restricted haplogroups, revealing limited gene flow among populations. Bayesian coalescent modelling suggests that most of the mitochondrial haplogroups could be considered as separate species. Second, using a supervised multiclass support vector machine approach on five anatomical components, we identify patterns in 3D colour space that efficiently predict assignment of male individuals to mitochondrial haplogroups. We converted the results of this analysis into a simple visual classification key that can assist trade managers to avoid local population overharvesting.

Concepts: DNA, Evolution, Biology, Sexual dimorphism, Color, Population genetics, Chameleon, Furcifer


The Malagasy giant chameleons (Furcifer oustaleti and Furcifer verrucosus) are sister species that are both broadly distributed in Madagascar, and also endemic to the island. These species are also morphologically similar and, because of this, have been frequently misidentified in the field. Previous studies have suggested that cryptic species are nested within this chameleon group, and two subspecies have been described in F. verrucosus. In this study, we utilized a phylogeographic approach to assess genetic diversification within these chameleons. This was accomplished by (1) identifying clades within each species supported by both mitochondrial and nuclear DNA, (2) assessing divergence times between clades, and (3) testing for niche divergence or conservatism. We found that both F. oustaleti and F. verrucosus could be readily identified based on genetic data, and within each species, there are two well-supported clades. However, divergence times are not contemporary and spatial patterns are not congruent. Diversification within F. verrucosus occurred during the Plio-Pleistocene, and there is evidence for niche divergence between a southwestern and southeastern clade, in a region of Madagascar that shows no obvious landscape barriers to dispersal. Diversification in F. oustaleti occurred earlier in the Pliocene or Miocene, and niche conservatism is supported with two genetically distinct clades separated at the Sofia River in northwestern Madagascar. Divergence within F. verrucosus is most consistent with patterns expected from ecologically mediated speciation, whereas divergence in F. oustaleti most strongly matches the patterns expected from the riverine barrier hypothesis.

Concepts: DNA, Gene, Evolution, Species, Phylogenetics, Clade, Madagascar, Chameleon


The trade in wildlife and keeping of exotic pets is subject to varying levels of national and international regulation and is a topic often attracting controversy. Reptiles are popular exotic pets and comprise a substantial component of the live animal trade. High mortality of traded animals raises welfare concerns, and also has implications for conservation if collection from the wild is required to meet demand. Mortality of reptiles can occur at any stage of the trade chain from collector to consumer. However, there is limited information on mortality rates of reptiles across trade chains, particularly amongst final consumers in the home. We investigated mortality rates of reptiles amongst consumers using a specialised technique for asking sensitive questions, additive Randomised Response Technique (aRRT), as well as direct questioning (DQ). Overall, 3.6% of snakes, chelonians and lizards died within one year of acquisition. Boas and pythons had the lowest reported mortality rates of 1.9% and chameleons had the highest at 28.2%. More than 97% of snakes, 87% of lizards and 69% of chelonians acquired by respondents over five years were reported to be captive bred and results suggest that mortality rates may be lowest for captive bred individuals. Estimates of mortality from aRRT and DQ did not differ significantly which is in line with our findings that respondents did not find questions about reptile mortality to be sensitive. This research suggests that captive reptile mortality in the home is rather low, and identifies those taxa where further effort could be made to reduce mortality rates.

Concepts: Reptile, Question, Squamata, Pet, Chameleon, Wildlife, Amniote, Tuatara


Metarhizium (M.) granulomatis (formerly Chamaeleomyces granulomatis) invariably causes fatal fungal glossitis and systemic mycosis in veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus). Isolation of M. granulomatis in other lizards thus far has not been described. The aim of this study therefore was to obtain information on the presence of M. granulomatis in reptiles kept as pets, and to examine whether there was an association between specific genotypes and clinical/pathological outcomes. Besides 18S ribosomal ® DNA (SSU) and internal transcribed spacer1-5.8S (ITS1-5.8S) rDNA, a fragment of the large subunit of the 28S rDNA (LSU), including the domains 1 (D1) and D2, were sequenced for identification of the fungus and phylogenetic analysis. Metarhizium granulomatis was isolated from 23 veiled chameleons, two panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) and one central bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps). Only the veiled chameleons revealed corresponding pathological findings in the form of glossal hemorrhage, granulomatous glossitis, pharyngitis, dermatitis and/or visceral mycosis. The infection site correlated to survival times of infected veiled chameleons. Combined long-term treatment with terbinafine and nystatin based on susceptibility testing may be helpful for prevention of disease and visceral spreading of the fungus, but elimination of the fungal pathogen or successful treatment of diseased veiled chameleons have not been achieved yet. Sequencing of the ribosomal genes yielded five different genotypes, with genotype A being strongly correlated with dermatitis, and remaining genotypes with pharyngitis and glossitis. However, disseminated visceral mycosis developed irrespective of the genotypes.

Concepts: Gene, Bacteria, Evolution, Biology, Fungus, Chameleon, Central Bearded Dragon, Pogona


Chameleon species have recently been adopted as models for evo-devo and macroevolutionary processes. However, most anatomical and developmental studies of chameleons focus on the skeleton, and information about their soft tissues is scarce. Here, we provide a detailed morphological description based on contrast enhanced micro-CT scans and dissections of the adult phenotype of all the forelimb and hindlimb muscles of the Veiled Chameleon (Chamaeleo calyptratus) and compare these muscles with those of other chameleons and lizards. We found the appendicular muscle anatomy of chameleons to be surprisingly conservative considering the remarkable structural and functional modifications of the limb skeleton, particularly the distal limb regions. For instance, the zygodactyl autopodia of chameleons are unique among tetrapods, and the carpals and tarsals are highly modified in shape and number. However, most of the muscles usually present in the manus and pes of other lizards are present in the same configuration in chameleons. The most obvious muscular features related to the peculiar opposable autopodia of chameleons are: (1) presence of broad, V-shaped plantar and palmar aponeuroses, and absence of intermetacarpales and intermetatarsales, between the digits separated by the cleft in each autopod; (2) oblique orientation of the superficial short flexors originating from these aponeuroses, which may allow these muscles to act as powerful adductors of the “super-digits”; and (3) well-developed abductor digiti minimi muscles and abductor pollicis/hallucis brevis muscles, which may act as powerful abductors of the “super-digits.”

Concepts: Evolution, Biology, Muscle, Tissues, Chameleon, Veiled Chameleon, Chamaeleo, Chameleons


We investigate the ultrastructural features and 3D electron tomography of chameleon (Chamaeleon calyptratus) which is a native of desert environments of Saudi Arabia. The corneas of the chameleon were fixed in 2.5% glutaraldehyde containing cuprolinic blue in sodium acetate buffer for electron microscopy and tomography, and observed under a JEOL 1400 transmission electron microscope. The thin cornea (21.92 μm) contained 28-30 collagen fibril lamellae. The middle stromal lamellae (from 13 to 19) contained keratocytes with a long cell process and filled with granular material. The CF diameter increased from lamella 1 (30.44 ± 1.03) to Lamella 5 (52.83 ± 2.00) then decreased towards the posterior stoma. The percentage of large CF diameters (55-65 nm) was very high in the lamellae L14 (38.8%) and L15 (85.7%). The mean PGs area of the posterior stroma (448.21 ± 24.84 nm(2) ) was significantly larger than the mean PGs area of the anterior, (309.86 ± 8.2 nm(2) ) and middle stroma 245.94 ± 8.28 nm(2) ). 3D electron tomography showed the distribution of PGs around and over the CF. Variable diameters of CFs in the anterior stroma may provide compact lamellae which may restrict the low wavelength of light. Variable diameters of CFs in the anterior stroma may provide compact lamellae which may restrict the low wavelength of light. This accommodation function is achieved by bending of the cornea. During bending the anterior stroma was stretched and the posterior stroma was compressed due to the presence of small CFs. The middle stroma remained stiff due to the presence of large CFs. Large proteoglycans not only maintain hydration for a longer period of time, but also act as a lubricant to neutralise the shear forces in the anterior and posterior stroma during bending.

Concepts: Electron, Electron microscope, Light, Microscope, Buffer solution, Chameleon, Veiled Chameleon, Chamaeleo


Large body size of ectothermic species can be correlated with high life expectancy. We assessed the longevity of the world’s largest chameleon, the Parson’s chameleon Calumma parsonii from Madagascar by using skeletochronology of phalanges taken from preserved specimens held in European natural history museums. Due to the high bone resorption we can provide only the minimum age of each specimen. The highest minimum age detected was nine years for a male and eight years for a female, confirming that this species is exceptionally long living among chameleons. Our data also show a strong correlation between snout-vent length and estimated age.

Concepts: Biology, Life expectancy, Aging, Zoology, Chameleon, Chameleons, Natural history, Museum