There are 202 species of chameleons; they come in various colors, and many species, as most know, can change color. However, you may not know that one particular chameleon species has a more unique physical trait—horns!
The Jackson’s Chameleon is the only chameleon species known to have horns. However, only male Jackson’s Chameleons carry this interesting feature. They use the horns to attract female chameleons and fight other males during mating season.
Below we will answer some common questions about these strange horns, such as what they’re made of, their uses, and more.
Which Chameleons Have Three Horns?
The Jackson’s Chameleon, also known as the Kikuyu three-horned chameleon or mini triceratops, is the only truly horned chameleon. Although some other species have small nubs on their nose and head, they are not exactly “horns” used for battle and protection like the Jackson’s Chameleon’s are.
The Jackson’s Chameleon’s subspecies also has horns, like:
- The yellow-crested Jackson’s Chameleon: It gets its name for the bright yellow color that radiates all over its body. It varies in size from 9-10 inches from tip to tail; it is also the most common type found within the pet trade.
- The tiny dwarf Jackson’s Chameleon: It only grows to 6-7 inches from tip to tail.
Total, there are three known subspecies of the Jackson’s Chameleon that range in color and size, but all of them have the trademarked three horns.
About the Jackson’s Chameleon
The Jackson’s Chameleon ranges in size from 6-10 inches for females, and the males can be upwards of 15 inches from nose to tip of the tail. They are a relatively docile lizard, but they are known for being extremely territorial. Like most other species, they can change color to adapt to their environment for camouflage. They also have the well-known chameleon eyes that rotate 180 degrees that move independently of one another.
Their many physical adaptations make them excellent hunters. They live mainly off of small insects. However, they have been known to eat other lizards, spiders, and even small birds. They are excellent hunters because they can change their skin color to blend in with their environment, and they also have the traditional long chameleon tongue, which makes catching their prey from a distance much easier.
Jackson’s Chameleons are native to East Africa. They prefer to live in the mountains in thickets and heavily forested areas. This allows the coverage to hide, hunt, and lay their eggs; it also keeps them protected from birds and other predators. They can have a fairly decent lifespan of 8-10 years but often it is much shorter. A Jackson’s chameleon lifespan is typically closer to 3-5 years in captivity.
The Jackson’s Chameleon is also a little different when it comes to reproduction. They give birth to live young after five to six months of gestation and can have eight to thirty live young at a time. In comparison, other subspecies only give birth to five to ten live young at a time.
Do Both Male and Female Jackson’s Chameleons Have Horns?
Only the male Jackson’s Chameleon usually has horns. He has three light brown horns, to be exact: one on his nose (the rostral horn), like a rhinoceros, and one above each eye socket (preocular horns).
The horns naturally form in male Jackson’s Chameleons as early as birth and will continue developing and growing as the animal matures. By the time the male Jackson’s Chameleon is about eight months old, these horns usually reach their full size.
In contrast, female Jackson’s Chameleons can occasionally have a small rostral horn, but typically not all three horns like males. If there are three horns present in a female Jackson’s Chameleon, they are often extremely small and barely noticeable to the eye (for most species). However, there are certain female subspecies of Jackson’s Chameleons that have more prominent horns, such as the Machakos Hills Jackson’s Chameleon.
Besides the horns, male and female Jackson’s Chameleons are generally similar in appearance—bright green unless they try to blend in with their environment. So, the long three horns on the head are the only definite way to tell a male from a female.
What Are the Jackson’s Chameleons Horns Used For?
You may wonder why such a small, docile lizard needs three horns on its head. Essentially, they need it for protection. Since only the males have these horns, they usually use them to fight other male Jackson’s Chameleons.
During mating season, if two male Jackson’s chameleons try to attract one female, they will often lock horns or ram their horns into their opponents—the goal being to push them off their branch. This “head-to-head fight” occasionally results in injury, though it is rare. The winner of the fight essentially wins the right to mate with the female Jackson’s’ Chameleon.
Male Jackson’s Chameleons also use their three horns to attract females. Like many other horned species, the longer the horns, the more the females are interested; big horns mean good genetics and better survival odds for their young.
Outside of the mating season, male Jackson’s Chameleons will often use their horns to defend their territory from other males if puffing up and changing their color does not work effectively enough. However, their horns are more often used for show rather than to harm in these instances.
What Are Chameleons Horns Made Of?
Now we know only male Jackson’s Chameleons have three horns, and they use them for battle against other males. But what are they made of?
Calling these unique features of the Jackson’s Chameleon “horns” is misleading as they are not stiff and sturdy like a cow or goat’s horns; instead, they are somewhat flexible. And, you’ll be surprised to learn that these “horns” are actually not horns at all; they are rostral protuberances. According to Reptilis, these rostral protuberances are scale-covered growths and can vary in size. The structures are made up of muscle and fat that is supported by bone.
The bone is located in the horns’ interior, with an outer core made of keratin, just like a rhino’s horn. (No wonder the guys often fight to the death; they are tiny rhinos! Well, not really, but they are a pretty formidable opponent to other Jackson’s Chameleons.)
Are the Jackson’s Chameleons Horns Harmful to Owners?
The Jackson’s Chameleon is one of the common chameleons kept as a pet. They are docile and fairly easy to maintain should you choose to raise one. That said, chameleons, in general, are not the best option for everyone. This is mostly due to the fact that they don’t really enjoy being handled often. Of course, if you simply want a pet that you can observe more often than handle they might be a great option.
Generally speaking, their horns should not be a real concern for pet owners in that they will not cause severe harm to humans, but you should stay mindful of them when handling them.
Because of their horns, it is very important that Jackson’s Chameleons are housed alone. They need plenty of room to move about their environment without getting their horns caught on anything. However, Jackson’s Chameleons generally like to be left alone anyway in nature, despite their horns.
It is especially important that you keep a male Jackson’s chameleon separate from other males if you own multiple chameleons. This way, you can prevent any fighting between the animals.
The Jackson’s chameleon is an intricate lizard. They have a docile nature but will and do use their three long facial horns to protect their territory and will fight to the death! Only males have these horns, so they are easy to differentiate from females.
They make great pets with the proper setup and can have a fairly long life of 8-10 years. Remember, they like to be kept alone, so if you have other animals, keep them in a separate area.