chameleon

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chameleon (kəmē´lēən, –mēl´yən), small- to medium-sized lizard of the family Chamaeleonidae. More than 150 species are found in sub-Saharan Africa, with a few in S Europe and S Asia. The so-called common chameleon, Chamaeleo chamaeleon, is found around the Mediterranean.

Chameleons have laterally flattened bodies and bulging, independently rotating eyes. They are variously ornamented with crests, horns, and spines. The toes are united into one bunch on either side of the foot, forming a pair of grasping tongs. Chameleons feed on small animals, chiefly insects, and they are unique among lizards in possessing very long, sticky tongues with which they capture their prey. Typical chameleons (members of the genus Chamaeleo) are arboreal and have long, prehensile tails. They move very slowly, with a rocking movement, grasping a branch with feet and tail.

The changes in skin color, seen in certain other lizards as well, are under hormonal and nervous control. They are not affected by the color of the background but by stimuli such as light, temperature, and emotion, and are used most dramatically in contests between rivals and to attract a mate. However, the shades of brown, gray, and green assumed by chameleons do generally blend with the forest surroundings.

The American chameleon, or anole (Anolis carolinensis), is not a true chameleon, but a small lizard of the iguana family, found in the SE United States and noted for its color changes. True chameleons are classified in the phylum Chordata, subphylum Vertebrata, class Reptilia, order Squamata, family Chamaeleonidae.

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cha·me·le·on / kəˈmēlyən; -lēən/ (chiefly Brit. also chamaeleon) • n. a small Old World lizard (Chamaeleo and other genera, family Chamaeleonidae) with a prehensile tail, extensible tongue, and the ability to change color. Numerous species include the common chameleon (C. chamaeleon). ∎  (also American chameleon) an anole. ∎ fig. a changeable or inconstant person. DERIVATIVES: cha·me·le·on·ic / kəˌmēlēˈänik/ adj.

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CHAMELEON

CHAMELEON , reptile of the family Chamaeleonidae, of which only one species, Chamaeleo chamaeleon, is found in Israel. It changes the color of its skin, according to that of its surroundings, to yellow, green, and black. In Aramaic the chameleon was known as zikita (Sanh. 108b), that which snuffs the wind, or hisses, or inflates itself with air. According to Pliny (Historia naturalis, 8:51), it "lives on the air" which it inhales. When in danger, it hisses. It is apparently identical to the tinshemet (from the root נשם, "to breathe"), which is included among unclean, swarming things (Lev. 11:30); however, in verse 18, tinshemet is mentioned among the birds and refers to a bird that hisses (see *owls).

bibliography:

Tristram, Nat Hist, 262; J. Feliks, Animal World of the Bible (1962), 101; Lewysohn, Zool, 224f.

[Jehuda Feliks]

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chameleon Arboreal lizard, found chiefly in Madagascar, Africa and Asia, notable for its ability to change colour. The compressed body has a curled, prehensile tail and bulging eyes that move independently. Length: 17–60cm (7–24in). Family Chamaeleontidae; genus Chamaeleo; there are 80 species.

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chameleon XIV — L. chamæleōn — Gr. khamailéōn, f. khamaí on the ground (rel. to HUMUS) + léōn LION.

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chameleon from this lizard's highly developed ability to change colour, it has become the type of a changeable or inconstant person.

The name is recorded from Middle English, and comes via Latin from Greek khamaileōn, from khamai ‘on the ground’ + leōn ‘lion’.