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The chameleon is a deadly hunter, but is also a tempting target for many other predators. It maximizes its chances both as hunter and hunted by disappearing from view. Jackson’s chameleon has the remarkable ability to change its body color to blend in with the shades of yellow, green and brown of its habitat. The male possesses three horns to use to intimidate rivals during territorial and breeding disputes. The female has only one horn. Each of its eyes lies at the tip of a swiveling turret. The eyes move independently, letting the chameleon see in two directions at once. His skin cells contain pigments that can be changed at will, allowing the chameleon to turn pale or dark when irritated, green when relaxing or darken to absorb heat.

Jackson’s chameleon is a mountain chameleon. Fully adapted to life in the trees, it lives in the wooded valleys of East Africa’s highland areas. Jackson’s chameleon may be a hunter, but it remains vulnerable to other predators, such as birds of prey, because it’s fairly small. Its first line of defense is its color. In its natural state, the chameleon’s green skin blends subtly into its surroundings. The chameleon’s leaflike shape also helps conceal it among the foliage.

Jackson’s chameleon walks slowly and deliberately, often with a rocking, jerky motion. It moves through the branches in search of insects, spiders and other prey. The chameleon’s eyes move independently of each other, letting it see in two directions at once. When the chameleon spots prey, both eyes focus on the target. The moment its within range of the prey, the chameleon shoots out its incredibly long tongue, snaring its victim on the sticky, mucus-coated tip. Almost as rapidly, the prey is pulled into the mouth. The entire snatch is very fast, the tongue extends and retracts in about one quarter of a second and the chameleon rarely misses its target.

The chameleon’s ability to change color is its most dramatic line of defense. It changes color simply by moving the pigments in its skin, which has many separate layers full of complex color cells. The chameleon changes color by expanding or shrinking the pigment cells and by covering or revealing the reflective cells; a calm chameleon arranges its yellow cells over blue reflecting cells, resulting in a green body color, the color of its habitat.

Similar species of chameleons may live in the same habitat, so Jackson’s chameleons have a skin color code to recognize other of their species. In fact, a male may not mate with a female until she displays the correct colors. The chameleon is unusual because it keeps the fertilized eggs inside its body until the embryos are fully developed. Each egg is covered by a thin, sticky membrane, the female fastens it carefully to a branch. Offspring emerge immediately, 2”long replicas of adults, complete with tiny horns. There may be 40 gray, dark green or black offspring with white side markings. Within hours of birth the young chameleons can catch small insects using their long, sticky tongues.

One of the greatest threats to chameleons lies it the international pet trade. The other threat is habitat destruction. Across Africa and Madagascar, forests have been destroyed to make way for cultivated crops and development.