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Reptiles found in the Kruger – The flap-necked chameleon

Flap-necked chameleon
The flap-necked chameleon. 
The flap-necked chameleon (chamaeleo dilepis) is native to sub-Saharan Africa and home to a range of different subspecies. Their name stems from the flaps that bulge from either side of the back of their head. Usually these flaps lie flat but when feeling threatened they raise and angle their flaps in hopes of discouraging rivals and predators. 

Reaching up to 35 cm (14 in) in length, the flap-necked chameleon, also known as the flapped-necked chameleon, is considered a large species of chameleons. They have small, white in colour, triangular shaped tubercles running down their throat and white belly, with their primary colour ranging from pale yellow through to shades of green and brown. 

Males are broader at the base of their tails and have a spur that grows out from the back of each hind foot. Within this species, females are considered the more dominant of the sexes, being larger, stronger and more territorial than males.

Flap-necked chameleon
Independent eye movement.
Chameleons are equipped with an incredible ability to have a 360 º view of the world around them. Their eyes are conically shaped with fused eyelids and each eye is able to move in a different direction from the other, which allows for the 360 º vision.


Flap-necked chameleons are commonly found in parts of hot sub-Saharan African countries throughout central, eastern, western and southern Africa. They call home in all provinces within local South Africa except for the Western Cape. 

They usually go about their lives, mostly active during the day while sleeping at night, in the branches of trees and bushes. They prefer coastal thicket areas, woodlands, and moist and dry savannah habitats. These chameleons will make a trip to the ground when in need to feed or find a mate.
Colour change

The flap-neck chameleon cannot change the colour of its skin to just any colour but is restricted to changing between shades of light to dark green though to shades of browns and black.

Flap-necked chameleon
Camouflage change. 
Chameleons change their colour to aid in camouflage, signal their moods or entice a mate. When the flap-necked chameleon is light in colour, usually a light green, it signifies a relaxed mood. The chameleon will change to a darker colour when feeling stressed or threatened.

Chameleons change their colour by taking control of the cells that lie just beneath their transparent skin. These cells are called chromatophores which are a mixture of pigmented, light-reflecting and melanin cells of which they are even able to open specific cells to create a spotted or striped effect.


A flap-necked chameleons hunts insects such as grasshoppers and beetles, using the power of their eyes and tongue.

Once their prey is spotted using their incredible 360 º vision, they propel their tongue at a speed of around three hundredths of a second, latching onto the unlucky insect chosen as a snack. The tongue, which can reach a length further than its own body, holds onto the prey by creating a vacuum with the use of their tongue muscles or by using the layer of sticky mucus covering their entire tongue.

Flap-necked chameleon
Flap-necked chameleon having a crunchy snack. 

It is only during the mating season that female flap-neck chameleons will allow males to approach without displaying aggressive behaviour. Mating lasts about an hour after which the female again becomes aggressive towards the male, turning black in colour and butting his head with any approaching movement.

The female goes through a gestation period of about a month after which she digs a hole to bury up to 60 small eggs. The youngsters break out of their egg sanctuaries anything between 6 to 10 months, having to fend for themselves from day one.
Did you know?

The flap-necked chameleon is one of the most widely distributed species of chameleons.

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