Parson's Chameleon
Calumma parsonii (Cuvier, 1824)

Family: Chamaeleonidae

Order: Squamata (Sauria) - Lizards

Class: Reptilia

Phylum: Chordata - Vertebrates

Kingdom: Animalia

Red List status: Not listed

                                    Male        Female

Snout-vent length:    295 mm      200 mm

Total length:             695 mm      495 mm


Weight: 700 g

Parson's chameleon (subspecies C. p. cristifer), subadult male, Andasibe National Park, Madagascar.

Widespread in eastern Madagascar, but absent from the south. Scattered populations have been reported from the island's northwest.

            Range            Description            Habitat            Behaviour            Biology            Taxonomy            Status            References

The world's largest chameleon by weight, and a contender (with Oustalet's chameleon) for the longest. A heavy-set lizard; the head is flattened and rises towards the rear, giving it a straight-edged, strongly triangular appearance. The tail is thick and typically longer than the snout-vent length. This chameleon's most distinctive feature, other than size, is the pair of large, flattened rostral appendages projecting from the tips of the rostral crests (which are widely separated) in males; in females these are wholly absent. In large males these may exceed 12 mm in length. Lateral crests are present; ventral and gular crests are absent, and the dorsal crest may be.

Generally the upper side of the head and the rostral appendages are brown or gray. Patterning may take the form of several dark, diagonal bands running across the flank from the upper to lower surface; a partial pale, horizontal band and sometimes a yellowish spot may also be present. Colour varies with life stage and, in adult males, falls into several distinct morphs. Juveniles are orange-brown, while females tend to be green with yellowish eyelids, though may be blue-green or reddish-brown. Males may be green (see Taxonomy), or may be turquoise with yellow or orange eyelids and white lips, light blue with yellow lips and greenish eyelids, or yellow to grey with green eyelids and yellowish lips.

Similar species: Greater size and the presence in the male of two large rostral appendages distinguish this species from most large chameleons. O'Shaughnessy's chameleon (C. oshaughnesseyi) is differently-coloured (typically with a light grey head and forebody), has distinct occipital lobes (these are rudimentary in C. parsonii), a dorsal crest (although this may be rudimentary) and exhibits distinct heterogeneity in scale size (scales in Parson's chameleon are homogenous). C. globifer and C. ambreense are superficially similar in patterning, but differ in colouration and have short rostral appendages. Furcifer species altogether lack occipital lobes, have less sharply triangular heads, and differ in colouration and patterning.



Mid- and low-altitude rainforest and forest edges, exhibiting a particular preference for areas alongside forest streams. Parson's chameleon tends to avoid dense primary rainforest, and is most often encountered in areas with a degree of disturbance.



Diet: Varied, and possibly omnivorous. Animal matter taken includes lizards, birds and invertebrates; anecdotally, the species may also feed on fruit, flowers and leaves. The discovery by Takahashi (2008) that wild Oustalet's chameleons will take fruit supports these accounts..



Breeding biology: Females lay clutches of 28-60 eggs, each 22 x 10 mm in diameter. These are laid in the ground, in a hollow excavated 30 cm deep following gestation lasting up to five months. Incubation in this species is extended (400-520 days), and appears to be reliant on seasonal changes in temperature.

Life cycle: Captive studies suggest that Parson's chameleon reaches sexual maturity at 3-5 years of age, later than any other chameleon species that has been studied.

Lifespan: Over six years, which is unusually long-lived for a chameleon. The upper limit may be 10-12 years.



Two readily-distinguishable subspecies of Parson's chameleon are recognised, Calumma parsonii parsonii and C. p. cristifer. C. p. cristifer is the only form which possesses a dorsal crest. Typically, adult males of this subspecies have green bodies, eyelids and lips; this is the only subspecies in which this all-green morph occurs. C. p. cristifer appears to be restricted to a small number of sites, including Andasibe, and is somewhat smaller than the typical form.



A popular species in the international pet trade, export of Parson's chameleon from Madagascar is regulated by CITES, which lists the species on Appendix II. Parson's chameleon has not been assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature for inclusion on the Red List, but the apparent absence of C. p. parsonii from protected areas and the continuing loss of Madagascar's rainforest represent likely causes for concern.




Parson's Chameleon Animal Encyclopedia. Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia. Copyright 2005 by The Gale Group,

Glaw, F. and Vences, M. (2007) A Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar. Third Edition. Cologne, Vences & Glaw Verlag: 496pp

Takahashi, H. (2008) Fruit feeding behaviour of a chameleon Furcifer oustaleti: Comparison with insect foraging tactics. Journal of Herpetology 42: 760-763

Calumma parsonii cristifer, subadult male at night. Andasibe National Park, Madagascar. Note the pale colouration, typical of sleeping chameleons, the presence of a dorsal crest and the prominent dual rostral appendage.