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Africa Geographic Travel
Large Parson's chameleon sitting on an arm
The cat-sized Parson’s chameleon, taken at the reptilarium, Réserve Peyrieras, in Madagascar © Christian Boix

The Parson’s chameleon (Calumma parsonii) is the largest chameleon in the world. Found in the lush rainforests of eastern and northern Madagascar, the Parson’s is a magnificent reptile to behold.

Here are some fascinating facts about this giant creature of the forest:

• There are two subspecies of Parson’s chameleon, the Calumma parsonii cristifer grows up to 45cm, while the larger Calumma parsonii parsonii grows up to 68cm – about the size of a domestic cat!

Juvenile chameleon
© Christian Boix.

• They come in a variety of colours, from green, turquoise and yellow. The lips and eyelids of adults are sometimes yellow or orange and there may be pale yellow or white spots on the flanks.

• They are able to change colour in response to temperatures, their surroundings or the presence of other chameleons – such as when mating or fighting.

Large chameleon in a rainforest
© Paolo Torchio (featured in the Africa Geographic 2017 Yearbook)

• This chameleon is listed on CITES Appendix II, meaning that trade in this species is regulated.

• The Parson’s is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN, mainly due to habitat loss through slash-and-burn agriculture.

Green and black chameleon
© Christian Boix

• A female Parson’s only mates once every two years, and can lay between 20 to 50 eggs in a nest dug in the ground. Those eggs can take up to two years to hatch!

• The Parson’s likes to eat a variety of foods, including insects, small lizards and birds. They have been known to also eat vegetation such as flowers and fruit.

Large chameleon in a forest
© Christian Boix

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