Why Are Chameleons Slow?

The word ‘slow’ actually doesn’t suit that much with reptiles. The ones we see on earth, most of them are fast, even if it’s for a brief time. But if so, then why are chameleons slow? They’re reptiles too, right? 

Well, it’s the unique way of moving that makes chameleons slower than most of the other reptiles. They’re arboreal by nature, so they need to move carefully as they don’t want to fall down and kill or injure themselves. Plus, it helps them in conserving energy along with staying safe. 

But how in the crazy wild their slow speed saves them? And even if does, don’t they fall behind when it comes to finding food and hunting? Well, it’s time to find that out!

Top Five Reasons For Chameleons to Walk Slowly

Chameleons being slow walkers is nothing new. But like everything in nature, they, too, are designed that way for certain purposes, including – 

1. Conserving Energy

One of the facts about living beings is that the faster they move, the faster their energy burns. But chameleons simply don’t give that a chance. Due to being a sluggish mover, they get to conserve a ton of their energy, which they basically need for hunting and escaping from predators. 

2. Better Vision

When it comes to the unique characteristics of chameleons, the next thing that comes to our mind right after their color is their eyes. As these eyes are capable of moving independently, getting a 360° view of the surrounding is no big deal for them. Plus, it helps in keeping an eye on their prey. 

But with a faster movement, there’s a high chance of them losing the proper sight of their prey. On top of that, it might inform the prey of their presence. So, moving a bit slowly not only helps them in observing better but also hunt more effectively. 

3. Camouflage

Calling the chameleons the masters of disguise won’t be anything wrong. The way they blend themselves with their surroundings is enough to deceive any predator out there. But pulling off a trick like that, a bit of slowness is a must. 

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4. Better Balance

The one thing that has to be top-notch in any arboreal animal is its balance. After all, without a better balance, they can fall off anytime, and the consequence can be anything from an injury to death. 

Due to moving slowly on the branches, chameleons can easily maintain their balance without falling off. What helps them the most here is their long tails. 

5. Thermoregulation

One of the biggest drawbacks of chameleons is they can’t generate their own body heat. This means even the slightest change of temperature in the environment can make the uncomfortable. 

And staying in a place with low temperatures for a longer period of time might even make them sick. But when they move slowly, regulating their body temperature becomes comparatively easier for them. 

How Do Chameleons Move?

In order to cling to trees and swing from side to side, chameleons make their tails excellently useful along with their clustered toes. They shuffle forward, one limb at a time, using only their hands and feet.

The thing is, chameleons are the only creatures in the world that have entirely horizontal feet. This means all five of their toes extend out to the side in a vertical position. On each of their front feet, there is a group of three toes on the inside and two on the outside. 

But on each of their rear feet, there are two toes on the inside and three on the inside. This is because their front feet are longer than their back feet. This unique characteristic works very well for holding branches that have an uneven bark surface or branches that have a restricted diameter.

Along with the five toes on all of their foot, they’ve got some decently sharp claws on each of the toes. These claws provide them with much more stability as well as additional gripping power. And guess what else boost up their gripping power? Yes, we’re talking about their tails. 

You already know that they’ve got prehensile tails. After all, this is something they’ve developed through the course of evolution. Not only it helps them to wrap around branches, but it also provides chameleons with even more stability as they are climbing.

Because of this, in contrast to many other species of lizard, chameleons are unable to regenerate their tails in the event that they were severed. 

Can a Chameleon Run Fast? 

Chameleons are known for lots of things, but speed is definitely not one of them. And to be honest, that slow and deliberate movement suits them. But like any other animals other there, they too can speed up when it comes to saving themselves from a predator. 

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Depending on the species, that speed can vary. But even if they give it their best, the speed won’t go beyond 9 km/h. We know what you’re thinking. That’s just too slow, right? Well, that’s the best they can do when they need a quick escape. 

What is the Role of Chameleons’ Tail in Their Slow Movement?

Unlike lots of the reptiles out there, chameleons are dependent a lot on their tails. And unfortunately, they can’t grow it back if they lose it under any circumstances. As chameleons’ tail is prehensile, it allows the reptile to have a better grip over any surface. In a sense, you can simply call it their fifth limb.

But their tails, which they look forward to so much, are also responsible for their slow movement to a certain extent. We bet you’re wondering how. Well, for the following reasons, of course. 

1. Stability

No matter which animal you point to, balance is the key to everyone’s perfect movement, and that’s totally true for chameleons as well. When it comes to moving slowly and deliberately, it’s their tail that helps them maintain balance. They use it to wrap around the branches, which takes down the chances of them falling from the top. 

2. Anchoring

One of the common tactics reptiles uses while hunting is to stay super steady so that the prey fails to feel their presence. But for that, they need something to do the anchoring as that’ll get them the required stability. 

For chameleons, their tails do the trick. It allows them to stick to the same place for a longer period of time without much of a move. Plus, it’s super helpful in avoiding predators as well. But if you’re asking about moving fast, an anchoring limb usually doesn’t support the animal on that. 

3. Propulsion

It’s true that a chameleon’s tail comes in handy for propulsion, especially when they need to make a quicker move. They swing their tails forward in order to push themselves forward, which helps them in gaining momentum. But the construction of the tail doesn’t support the faster movement for a longer period of time. 

Chameleons Move Back and Forth, But Why? 

Like any other arboreal lizards, chameleons love spending most of their life in trees. And when it comes to engaging in direct competition with other species of lizards for food, they simply skip that in every possible way. By the way, that doesn’t mean they struggle too much to survive. In fact, their sluggish movement aids in their ability to live in the wild.

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But what about them moving back and forth? Well, there are a bunch of reasons including –

1. Depth Perception

Having poor depth perception is nothing new for chameleons. So, they’ve got no other choice but to rely on motion parallax when it comes to judging distances. While moving back and forth, it becomes easier for them to use the motion parallax as they need it to gauge the distance, whether it’s from their target or their predators. 

2. Thermal Regulation

Like any other cold-blooded animal, it’s a must for chameleons to regulate their body temperature in order to survive. But for that, they depend mostly on the external source of heat. Moving back and forth helps them in adjusting their distance from heat sources and keep their body temperature on point. 

3. Communication

The ways chameleons communicate are quite interesting. But changing colors isn’t their sole mode of communication for sure, as they use moving back and forth for communicating as well. For instance, male ones do this when it comes to signaling their dominance or courting the females.

4. Hunting Strategy

Chameleons are expert predators, and the first thing they do to grab their hunt is set an ambush. For that, they move back and forth as that helps them in blending in with the surrounding. It simply makes them hard to detect for their prey. Once they come closer, their super swift tongue does the rest.

5. Evading Predators

Being a slow animal in the wild has its share of drawbacks, and one of them is getting hunted easily. We bet chameleons can easily relate to that. So, having a strategy to evade the predators come with no alternative. 

This is where moving back and forth comes in handy. While feeling threatened, these reptiles follow this tactic as that makes the predators confused, thinking they’re some kind of leaf.

Before You Go…..

Okay, it’s proved that chameleons aren’t among the fastest reptiles. But what about jumping? Are they incapable of that too? Well, if that’s what you’re confused about right now, let our blog – Can Chameleons Actually Jump? get you that answer. All you have to do is just click and start reading. 

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Muntaseer Rahman

About Author

Hello, I’m Muntaseer Rahman, the owner of AcuarioPets.com. I’m passionate about aquarium pets like shrimps, snails, crabs, and crayfish. I’ve created this website to share my expertise and help you provide better care for these amazing pets.


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