31 Amazing Facts About the Jackson Chameleon

31 Amazing Facts About Jackson Chameleons

These exotic creatures which look like creatures from another planet make for very fascinating watching. They also give us a glimpse into our past, and the exotic creatures that have existed in our world before we came. Little wonder they are one of the most sought-after pets in the world today, they are also one of the most aesthetically pleasing.

Whether you already own one or you are planning to get one, here are 31 most fascinating facts that you should know about the Jackson chameleon.


General Information


1. Class Reptilia (Reptiles)

The Jackson chameleons belong to the class Reptilia (reptiles like snakes and lizards), the Order Squamata (reptiles with scales) and the Suborder: Iguania (iguanas). As a result of its physical appearance, it belongs to the unique Genus Triceros (Latin for three horns), unlike other chameleons.


2. Existence in Three Subspecies

Jackson chameleons exist in three subspecies, Jackson’s chameleon, the Dwarf Jackson’s chameleon, and the Yellow-crested Jackson’s chameleon. The largest subspecies of Jackson’s chameleon is Yellow-crested Jackson chameleon. It is a very hardy animal which has been bred in captivity since the 1980s.


3. Native Habitats

Jackson chameleons are native to the woodlands and forests of south-central Kenya and northern Tanzania. Their optimal location is at altitudes of 1,600 to 2,440 m (5,250 to 8,010 ft.). However only one small number Yellow-crested Jackson chameleons can be found in Tanzania, the rest are found all over Kenya, where they can even found in wooded areas of some Nairobi suburbs.

The optimum climate that the Jackson chameleon thrives in is one where the rainfall is seasonal but exceeds 127 cm (50 in) per year.  In their natural habitats, Day temperatures are typically 16–27 °C (61–81 °F), and night temperatures are typically 4–18 °C (39–64 °F).


4. Why is it called the Jackson Chameleon?

The species name Jackson comes from the name of English explorer and ornithologist Frederick John Jackson, who was serving as the first Governor of Kenya at the time the Jackson chameleon was discovered.  The largest subspecies of the animal, known as Jackson’s chameleon was discovered by Belgian-British zoologist George Albert Boulenger in 1896.

However, two more subspecies the Dwarf Jackson Chameleon (discovered by Austin Loomer Rand in 1958) and the Yellow-Crested Jackson chameleon discovered by (Perri Eason, Gary W. Ferguson and James Herbrand in 1988) have been discovered.


5.  It is also called the Gikuyu Chameleon

The Jackson chameleon is also called the Gikuyu Chameleon. It was named after the largest ethnic group in Kenya, its country of origin and the three-horned chameleon.

gikuyo chameleon
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia)


6. Conservation Status

Its conservation status is listed as being of least concern, due to its increasing population both in its natural habitat and in captivity, the yellow-crested Jackson chameleon, in particular, thrives in captivity. The subspecies was introduced to Hawaii in 1972 and have since established populations on all main islands and became invasive species there.

This subspecies has also been introduced to Florida. The Jackson chameleon population was the primary source of Jackson’s Chameleons for the exotic pet trade in the United States, but exports from Hawaii have now been made illegal in order to prevent opportunists from willfully establishing further feral animal populations to capture and sell them.


Physical Characteristics

In general Jackson’s Chameleons have the appearance of a miniature dinosaur with a somewhat toad-like face and a horned Rhino like head. They have a rough skin and uneven thorn like ridges on their backs starting from their necks down to their tails. This thorn like ridges disappears at the tip of their tails. This serves to reinforce the Triceratops image oven more.


7. The Jackson Chameleon’s Coloring

The Jackson Chameleon has chromatophores in its skin. These are specialized skin cells that allow it to change color. The natural coloring of the Jackson Chameleon is bright green, but some individual animals have traces of blue (and in the case of the yellow-crested Jackson chameleon) yellow, but like all chameleons, they change color quickly depending on mood, health, and temperature.

Jackson chameleon females also tend to be less brightly colored than males, with their colors usually brown or dark greens. This is another form of dimorphism in the Jackson chameleon species which can be used to tell both sexes of Jackson chameleons apart.


8. Zygodactylus Feet

The feet of the Jackson chameleon is zygodactylous, i.e., they are divided such that two toes pointing inward and three pointing outward in each of the legs. This makes them specialized for tree life.


9. Hemi Penal Bulge

There is a bulge located under the tail of the male Jackson chameleon known as the Hemi penal bulge. This indicates the presence of the male reproductive system. Females don’t have that bulge. Apart from the horns, it is another way by which zoologists and chameleon owners can tell the chameleon genders apart.


10. Prehensile Tails

They have a prehensile tail, which they can curl and use for gripping branches of trees.

A Rest by Florence Ivy, on Flickr
A Rest” (CC BY-ND 2.0


11. Vision

Jackson Chameleons have ophthalmic vision.

Their upper and lower eyelids are fused with only a pinhole opening for the pupil. They can swivel their eyes up to 180° so as to effectively ‘keep an eye’ on the impending danger or predators. Their eyes are also able to move independently of one another. This ability has given these reptiles the power to look in front and behind at the same time.


12. The Jackson Chameleon’s Tongue

Jackson chameleons have very long tongues which can sometimes be like one and a half time as long as their own body length which they are capable of rapidly extending out of the mouth. The tongue of the Jackson chameleon is a complex arrangement of bone, muscle, and sinew.

At the base of the tongue, a bone is shot forward, giving the tongue the initial momentum it needs to reach the prey quickly. The tongue also has a fleshy tip covered with thick sticky saliva that ensures at any prey caught cannot escape.


13.  Three- Horned Chameleon

Jackson chameleons are also known as three-horned chameleons because males of the species possess three brown horns: one on the nose (called the rostral horn) and one above each superior orbital ridge above the eyes (preocular horns), this makes the animal look like the Ceratopsid dinosaur genus Triceratops.

The Jackson Chameleon’s horns are composed of muscle and fat and supported by bone. The horns appear at birth in the male of the species and continue to grow as the animal matures. It is often distinctive by the time the animal is eight months old.


14. What does the Jackson Chameleon’s use its horns for?

The horns are only present in male Jackson chameleons. Females generally have no horns; instead, they have traces of the rostral horn (in the Jackson chameleon and the Jackson Dwarf Chameleon species).

As it happens with horned animals like rhinos and deer and even goats, male Jackson chameleons use their horns for showing off to mates. They also use the horns for fending off other males who would either take away a potential mate or territory.


15. Size

Jackson chameleons are small to medium-sized chameleons.

Adult males reach a total length (from the tip of horn to tail) of up to 38 cm (15 inches) and adult females may reach lengths of up to 25 cm (10 in), but more typical lengths are 15 to 25 cm (6 to 10 in). Unlike other species of chameleons, they have a saw-tooth shaped dorsal ridge and no gular crest.


16. Lifespan

The Jackson chameleon’s lifespan is variable. Male Jackson chameleons live for 8 to 10 years far longer than longer than females who only live for 4 to 5 years.




17. Diet

Jackson Chameleons feed on insects. The mainstay of their diets is crickets but they also eat mealworms, super worms, roaches, silkworms, flies and fruit flies.

This is because Jackson chameleons have acrodont dentition, i.e. the teeth are not set in sockets but are attached weakly to the jawbone surface.


18. Drinking System

Unlike veiled chameleons, Jackson chameleons cannot drink from standing water. They can only drink water when it is dripping off the leaves. See more: Can Chameleons Drink Tap Water? (Drinking System)


19. How Does the Jackson Chameleon Catch Prey?

The Jackson chameleon has at the tip of its elastic tongue, a muscular, club-like structure that forms a suction cup. Once the tip sticks to a prey item, it is drawn quickly back into the mouth, where the Jackson chameleon’s strong jaws crush and eat it.


20. Arboreal Animal

The Jackson chameleon-like other species of chameleons is an arboreal animal which means that it likes to climb on top of trees and shrubs both in the wild and in captivity. It also eats leaves from trees and basks on tree branches to receive sunlight during the day.


21. Shedding in Jackson Chameleons

Like all other chameleons, Jackson chameleons also periodically shed their skins. The shedding starts with white spots developing on the animal’s skin. The white spots are actually the old skin flaking off and the old skin will be shed within a period of hours to a few days, depending on the age of the Jackson chameleon. See more:Why is my chameleon shedding? (Caring Guide)

The frequency with which the chameleon sheds its skin is also dependent on the age of the chameleon. Younger chameleons shed more frequently than older chameleons. Depending on the subspecies thus shedding will happen throughout the chameleon’s lifetime.


Breeding and Reproduction


22. When Do Jackson Chameleons Reach Sexual Maturity?

Jackson chameleons achieve sexual maturity after five months. However, a Jackson chameleon doesn’t usually breed until they are 9 months to 1 year old.


23. Mating in Jackson Chameleons

The Jackson chameleon’s mating ritual resembles its threat ritual.

When a male sees a female in its territory, it changes colors and inflates itself to scare the female away. If the female makes an aggressive gesture back then it is not ready to mate. However, if the female does not make any gestures at all, then it is ready for mating. The male then grabs her neck with his mouth and inserts his hemipenis into her cloacal opening. The mating takes about 13 minutes.


24. Jackson Chameleons are Ovoviviparous

Other species of chameleons lay eggs as soon as they are fertilized, with the hatchling developing in the egg after it has already been laid. However, Jackson chameleons are ovoviviparous, which means that they give birth to live young. A female incubates her brood in a soft shell membrane in her womb until the hatchlings are about to hatch. Gestation is usually seven to nine months for the first brood.

A female chameleon can mate again twenty days after it gives birth. Young Jackson chameleons are typically brownish when they are born. They acquire their greenish color when they are about five months and have become mature. Also, chameleons do not take care of their young. Hatchling chameleons start catching insects on their own as soon as they are born. See more: Complete Guide for Chameleon Pregnancy Care


25. Territorialism

Like most species of chameleons, the Jackson chameleon is very territorial. The chameleon spends the majority of its life in isolation. The only time it allows any chameleon of any species or gender to come close to it is when it is with a female during mating sessions.

Male Jackson chameleons are so territorial and love isolation so much that sometimes males refuse to mate with females. It may take the appearance of another male for a male Jackson chameleon to notice a female in its territory.

Female Jackson chameleons are not territorial and two or more female Jackson chameleons can live in the same habitat (in the wild) or within the same enclosure (in captivity). See more: Can You Put Two Chameleons Together?


26. How does the Jackson Chameleons Deal with Intruders and Other Males?

Jackson chameleons are less territorial than most species of chameleons. Males will generally assert dominance over each other through color displays and posturing in an attempt to secure mating rights, but usually not to the point of physical fights. To scare the opponent, they would open their mouths wide to display the different colors inside.

A belligerent male would sway itself from side to side and bobbing up and down repeatedly emitting soft hisses. The other male that is submissive would soon give up and try to hide, or will freeze in place, and later, escape, eventually leaving the territory. When threatened, they can also inflate themselves with air to appear larger.


27. The Mirror Test

Jackson chameleons cannot pass the mirror test (which is used to judge whether an animal has self-awareness).

In fact, the Jackson chameleon is so bad at the mirror test that, chameleon owners often put a mirror into the chameleon’s cage to lure an uninterested male to mate with a female. The chameleon sees its own reflection as another chameleon coming to take away its mate and responds accordingly.


28. Predators

The Jackson Chameleons, like other chameleon species, are at the bottom of the food chain and are predated by varied types of animals, including birds of prey, large snakes and rats, and other mammals like raccoons, cats, and even different species of monkeys.


29. Adaptation for Survival

The most important adaptation that Jackson chameleons have is their ability to change colors. When a Jackson chameleon is threatened, it camouflages by changing color to match the leaves on the branches of the trees it is on.

Also apart from camouflaging, Jackson chameleons often fade to drab colors then become still to protect themselves. The predator believes that the animal is dead and leaves it alone.


30. Diseases that affect the Jackson Chameleon

The Jackson Chameleon Suffers from the following diseases both in the wild and in captivity:

  • Dehydration from the housing at high temperatures without sufficient drinking water
  • Females suffer from egg binding, which occurs when a female chameleon has eggs in her womb that she is unable to lay; this can cause severe weight loss or even death.
  • Nutritional secondary hyperparathyroidism or metabolic bone disease
  • An ophthalmic disease which affects the eyes
  • Stomatitis, periodontal disease


31. Common Misconceptions about Jackson Chameleons

Contrary to the common misconceptions, the Jackson chameleon cannot change color to match all of its surroundings. Jackson chameleons have a limited range of colors they can change to. This range of colors is determined by subspecies or the individual itself.

Thus a green Jackson chameleon cannot turn purple. He may turn bright green with hints of blue; he may turn all the way to bright or dark blue or even to black. All those colors are within its range. But it cannot turn purple. Thus videos of Jackson chameleons turning into whatever color they want on demand are fake(Video Below).



I hope with the facts listed above, you will realize your Jackson chameleon is so much more awesome than you thought! Your Jackson chameleon can be an amazing pet if taken care of and given the required attention that befits the exotic pet that it is.

Hope you find this post interesting and helpful. If you find anything wrong or outdated, please leave your comment below. I’ll update it as soon as possible. 

Thanks for reading.




Jackson Chameleon the article retrieved from www.animalspot.com
Jackson Chameleon, Male or female? Article retrieved from www.chameleonforums.com
Common Myths and Misconceptions about chameleons. Retrieved from www.muchadoaboutchamelons.com
Basic Information Sheet: Jackson’s Chameleon retrieved from www.laferber.com
Jackson Chameleon Care Sheet, retrieved from www.reptilesmagazine.com