Chameleons

Do Chameleons Have Ears?

Do Chameleons Have Ears?

Chameleons are very unique reptiles. Many of us know them for their color-changing capabilities and you may also know they have powerful, long tongues. In addition, they hang on trees with their strong tails. Chameleons have some unique physical traits but, do chameleons have ears?

The short answer is no. Chameleons do not have ears per se. While they may not have ears, this incredible, color-changing creature does have an amazing sense of sound. 

Read along to find out how this is possible and learn. Do chameleons have ears? How can they hear without them? And what are some of their other survival mechanisms?

You will find they can understand sound with their unique physical traits. These are not traditional hearing mechanisms, but they work. Plus, they have many other valuable characteristics to allow for them to engage other senses. The different features make them stand out in the reptile world. Plus, it helps them survive.

Learn some fun facts! Check them out at the bottom of this article.

Can You See Chameleons Ears?

They can pick up sounds through a membrane and small holes on the side of their heads. However, you cannot see them. The holes are tiny. The only way you would see them is with a microscope. 

Also, you can also note a tiny hole between the eyes, which sends vibrations to the quadratic bone (more on this bone below). It is incredible they can hear anything at all. 

How Do Chameleons Hear Without Ears?

Chameleons do not possess an outer ear opening or tympanic membrane. 

A tympanic membrane is a fancy way to say eardrum. The eardrum is a crucial aspect of hearing.

Plus, their cochleas are small. The cochlea is the spiral-like structure of the inner ear that carries sound to the eardrum for animals who possess these traits.

While they do not possess traditional hearing mechanisms, they can still pick up vibrations and understand threats through the quadratic bone, membranes, and auditory papilla. They will not hear the sound so much as they will feel it.

Are Chameleons Ears Sensitive To Sound?

Chameleons are missing some vital parts of hearing biology. Yet, they can sense sound from 100 to 10,000 Hz with the best hearing at low tones from 200 to 600 Hz. They are almost deaf, so they have to rely on other senses to survive in addition to their limited hearing.

Think of how Beethoven cut the legs off his piano to feel the vibrations of the music while he wrote. He created some of the most prolific music in the world by only sensing vibration. While he was deaf, he could still feel the vibrations. Chameleons function similarly. A lack of hearing does not mean a lack of intelligence!

If you consider adopting a chameleon, it is essential to consider this sensitivity.

Like Beethoven, they are sensitive to sounds even without proper hearing mechanisms. If many low-frequency tones surround them, they can become overstimulated. They are not adapted to hear all sounds, so an extraordinary amount of low-frequency sound is too much for them. Consider homing them in a quiet place where they will not suffer from over-stimulation.

How Do Sound Frequencies Work?

As we keep mentioning the 200 to 600 Hertz frequencies, it is essential to understand what this means exactly. The lower the tone of a sound, the slower it is moving. High pitched sounds have higher frequencies. For example, middle C on the piano is at 261.23 Hertz per second. The standard tuning frequency of high A is 440 Hz. Humans speak at an average of 500 Hz.

Dictionary.com defines hertz as “a unit of frequency equal to 1 cycle per second”. So, 200 Hz means the sound moves at 200 Hertz per second. Humans can hear frequencies from 20 to 20,000 Hertz per second. That is quite a significant difference from the measly 200 to 600 Hz a chameleon can “hear.”

How Do Chameleons Communicate If They Are Deaf?

As you might already know, chameleons can change color. Their color-changing abilities are one of the primary forms of communication for chameleons. For example, if a chameleon is approaching another chameleon, it might turn red to indicate that it does not want to be approached. They might also change color to camouflage themselves from predators. 

Chameleon Skin is Like a Mood Ring.

However, they mainly change color to indicate their mood. Darker colors reflect that they feel threatened or triggered. Chameleons change to lighter colors to attract a mate. They might also change colors to adjust to temperatures. If it is cold, they may change to a darker color to stay warm. They switch to a lighter color to cool off.

What Causes Chameleons to Change Color?

The mechanisms of the chameleon’s ability to change their pigmentation are pretty interesting. There are two main ways this mechanism works in chameleons. These ways are through iridophores and chromatophores. They can create colors like red, yellow, and green.

Iridophores

Iridophores consist of guanine crystals that exist in the skin cells. It is a layer of pigmented cells beneath the skin which reflect light. They function similarly to a prism. When a chameleon is stimulated, these cells move and change the skin tone. They manipulate their cells depending on the threat level or comfortability level they are experiencing.

Chromatophores

Dictionary.com describes Chromataphores as “a cell or plastid that contains pigment.” Again, when stimulated, chameleon’s brains signal to these cells to change color. However, this only affects lighter colors in the spectrum. Therefore, it is a combination of both iridophores and chromatophores that create changes in chameleon pigmentation.

Yes, chameleons growl.

Another way they communicate is through making growling sounds. If they feel threatened by another chameleon, they will growl in low tones. Their growl is a reflection of the innate biological understanding that they hear low tones best. 

It will be difficult for you to hear a chameleon growling at the low frequencies in which they vibrate. It can be felt, however, similarly to a cat’s purr. If you notice a growl, they feel threatened, and you should back off immediately. If a chameleon is growling at another chameleon, they are about to attack.

Why Do Chameleons Attack Each Other?

Chameleons are very territorial. If another chameleon encroaches on another’s space, they will signal to that chameleon that they are not happy. They will change colors and growl. If the approaching chameleon does not heed the warnings, the other will attack. They will injure the trespassing chameleon and sometimes even kill them.

If you are considering getting a chameleon, it is imperative that you never put two chameleons in the same cage. This is how you end up with injured animals. It would be a crying shame for you not to listen to this important advice.         

The Mechanics Of Chameleon Ears?

These beautiful lizards possess what is called a quadrate bone. Reptiles, amphibians, and birds are the only creatures with this bone. It functions similarly to the middle ear bones in other animals. It consists of a thin bone that floats by the skull between the eyes. You can see this if you look closely between their eyes.

How Does the Quadrate Bone Work?

Membranes surround the quadrate bone. When these membranes encounter a sound, they create a vibration in the quadrate bone. The vibrations will send signals to the hearing apparatus, also known as the auditory papilla.

The quadrate bone allows them to pick up the low tones of 200 to 600 Hz. If you want to talk to a chameleon, speak in soft tones and at a lower frequency than you might usually talk.

What is the Auditory Papilla?

The auditory papilla consists of tiny little hair cells. Chameleons possess less auditory papilla compared to other animals, especially other lizards. While they are lacking, they still allow for signals to transfer the experience of sounds.

We can now understand that chameleons can sense sounds through the quadrate bone and auditory papilla. The membranes surrounding the quadrate bone will send vibrations through the auditory papilla. The auditory papilla sends signals to the brain, allowing chameleons to interpret sounds.

We ask, can chameleons hear? Do chameleons have ears? Yes, in their own way.

Conclusion

While chameleons have no prominent ears, they can still sense sound. They are missing the primary structures for hearing, like an outer ear or eardrum. The main culprit to create their hearing comes from the quadrate bone.

They can hear at a frequency of 200 to 600 Hz, which means you can try to communicate through sound with them if you consider your pitch while speaking. These magnificent creatures are remarkable in that they convey in unique ways, particularly when they change their skin colors.

This color-changing ability allows them to be excellent communicators between chameleon populations. The fact that they growl at the proper frequency to show they are feeling threatened also makes them great communicators.

Chameleons are unique lizards even if they cannot hear as other animals can—conserving these precious creatures is imperative.

Additional Fun Facts About Chameleons

  • Different chameleons have different color pigmentation ranges. Some of the more alpha males will have brighter colors, allowing them priority when finding a mate. Females will adapt their pigmentation to attract a mate.
  • They can see around them entirely with a range of 360 degrees. They can independently move each eye 180 degrees, totaling the full 360-degree spectrum.
  • There are 171 species of chameleons!
  • They live in tropical climates. Find chameleons in sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar. However, they also live in places like Hawaii, Spain, Portugal, and Asia.
  • They are primarily solitary creatures.
  • What do they eat? They mainly eat insects and birds. Sometimes leaves and fruit as well.
  • How do they catch their prey? They have great, long, and fast tongues. Their tongues can stretch out 10-12 feet! According to Nationalgeographic.com, “If it were a car, the chameleon’s tongue could accelerate from 0 to 60 miles (97 kilometers) per hour in 1/100th of a second”. Amazing!
  • Unlike most other lizards, they do not lay eggs. Chameleons give birth.
  • Baby chameleons are fully grown at 1 to 2 years of age.
  • The Brookesia Micra chameleon is among the smallest reptiles in the world, coming in at only 33 millimeters.
  • Many species of chameleon are endangered species. The endangered species include the tiger chameleon, Elandsberg dwarf chameleon, Namoroka leaf chameleon, and the Decary’s leaf chameleon.

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