Facts about the animal kingdom

How Do Chameleons Reproduce?

María Luz Thurman
By María Luz Thurman, Biologist/ornithologist. May 8, 2024
How Do Chameleons Reproduce?

Chameleons are renowned for their mesmerizing color changes, but there's another captivating aspect to their biology: their distinct reproductive strategies. Adapted to survive in varied habitats, chameleons employ two different methods of reproduction, some lay eggs while others give birth to live young.

This AnimalWised article delves explains how chameleon reproduction works, exploring the mechanisms and characteristics of each method, from courtship rituals to the development of their young.

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  1. What type of reproduction does a chameleon have?
  2. When do chameleons reproduce?
  3. How do chameleons reproduce?
  4. How are chameleons born?

What type of reproduction does a chameleon have?

Reproduction in chameleons is primarily oviparous, with females laying eggs instead of giving birth to live young, a common trait across most species. After mating, the female will lay a clutch of eggs, typically 3 to 6 weeks later. She digs a hole in the ground or finds a suitable location and deposits her eggs, often covering them with dirt for protection. The eggs then incubate for several months, depending on the species and environmental conditions. Once developed, the hatchlings emerge on their own, independent of parental care.

While most chameleons reproduce by laying eggs, some species take a slightly different approach. Species like the Short-Horned Chameleon (Bradypodion tenue) or the popular pet chameleon known as Jackson's Chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii) are ovoviviparous. This means that the female lays eggs internally, but unlike true viviparous animals (like mammals), the eggs don't receive nourishment from the mother. The developing young rely solely on the yolk sac for nutrients until they hatch within the female.

These ovoviviparous chameleons typically have a longer gestation period compared to oviparous species, lasting several months. Once fully developed, the young are born live, already formed and independent. Unlike true viviparous animals, the mother doesn't provide any parental care after birth.

Explore the science behind color-shifting prowess of chameleons in our other article

When do chameleons reproduce?

The breeding season of chameleons is variable, depending on species and environmental factors in their natural habitat. However, several common influences shape chameleon reproduction:

  • Temperature
  • Food availability
  • Day length

In tropical regions with stable climates, chameleons may not have a distinct breeding season and can reproduce year-round.

Conversely, in areas with pronounced seasons, chameleons typically exhibit more seasonal breeding behavior, especially in regions where there is a distinct wet and dry seasons. In such regions, the breeding period often aligns with the rainy season or when food sources like insects become abundant. This usually coincides with the warmest months of the year, providing optimal conditions for egg development and offspring growth.

During the breeding season, chameleons engage in specific behaviors like courtship displays, male-to-male conflicts for mating rights, and active mate searching. These behaviors are influenced by hormonal changes and environmental cues.

In captivity, with controlled environments, breeders can sometimes influence breeding cycles by manipulating factors like light and temperature to create ideal breeding conditions.

For ovoviviparous species, which give birth to live young, there might not be a distinct breeding season in the traditional sense.

How Do Chameleons Reproduce? - When do chameleons reproduce?

How do chameleons reproduce?

As mentioned, chameleons are typically oviparous, laying eggs for the young to develop. The reproductive process in chameleons follows several steps, outlined below:

  1. Courtship behavior: males display courtship behaviors to attract females, which may include changes in skin color, elaborate body movements, and displays of their crest or gular sac. Males often chase females and exhibit territorial behavior during this phase.

  2. Mating: after successful courtship, mating occurs. The male transfers sperm to the female through a structure called the hemipenis.

  3. Sperm storage: following mating, the female stores the sperm in a specialized structure called a spermatheca until she is ready to fertilize her eggs.

  4. Egg fertilization: When ready, the female fertilizes her eggs using the stored sperm before laying them.

  5. Egg laying: the female seeks a suitable location to lay her eggs, typically on the ground or among dense vegetation to protect them from predators and provide an optimal environment for embryonic development.

  6. Incubation: once laid, the eggs enter an incubation period, which varies in duration depending on the species and environmental conditions.

  7. Hatching: after completing their development, the eggs hatch, and the young chameleons emerge.

In the case of ovoviviparous chameleons, the big difference in the process is the egg's location. Oviparous chameleons lay eggs externally, while ovoviviparous ones keep them inside. In both cases, the young rely on the yolk sac for nutrients, not the mother.

How are chameleons born?

There are two main ways chameleons are born, depending on the reproduction method.

On the one hand, oviparous chameleons, the female develops eggs internally for a few weeks and then lays a clutch (group) of eggs in a safe spot, often buried in the ground. The eggs incubate for several months, depending on the species and temperature. Once fully developed, baby chameleons (hatchlings) break out of the eggs on their own.

On the other hand, ovoviviparous chameleons, the eggs develop within the female for a longer period (several months) than oviparous species. The developing young rely solely on the yolk sac within the egg for nutrients. Once fully formed, live young are born instead of eggs hatching externally. These hatchlings are already independent from birth, receiving no parental care.

In both cases, the babies are independent from birth. However, with oviparous chameleons, the eggs develop outside the mother's body, while with ovoviviparous chameleons, the eggs develop inside but without any nourishment from the mother.

Considering a chameleon as a pet? Discover their unique needs and challenges to decide if they're the perfect fit for you.

If you want to read similar articles to How Do Chameleons Reproduce?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Hwang, I.J., & Baek, H.J. (2013). Reproductive cycle of chameleon goby, Tridentiger trigonocephalus in the southern coastal waters of Korea . Development & Reproduction, 17(4), 353.
  • Perry, S.M., Camlic, S.R., Konsker, I., Lierz, M., & Mitchell, M.A. (2023). Characterizing the annual reproductive cycles of captive male veiled chameleons (Chamaeleo calyptratus) and panther chameleons (Furcifer pardalis) . Journal of Herpetological Medicine and Surgery, 33(1), 45-60.
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How Do Chameleons Reproduce?