The Panther Chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) is a species from the island of Madagascar. Across its natural range in Madagascar, male Panther Chameleons show extremely variable coloration at different locations. While geographical color morphs are fairly common among chameleon species, the Panther chameleon provides one of the best examples of this phenomenon. Numerous different color morphs exist among Panther chameleon populations at different locations (commonly referred to as locales) in Madagascar, and more are being described all the time. These locale names (named after the nearest town in the area where the morph is found) are used to describe the coloration and pattern of Panther chameleons in the local area.
While Panther Chameleon populations at each locale display a certain amount of variation among individuals, the differences are far weaker than the differences between colors and patters at different locales, especially locales that are isolated from one another. For example, Panther chameleon locales on the northwest coast of Madagascar are characterized by a well defined Y bar on their flank, while Panther chameleons from east coast locales commonly have more of a blurred U bar. North west Panther chameleon locales also tend to be characterized by more blue coloration, while red predominates in Panther chameleons from east coast locales. There isn’t always a definite barrier between locales, and there is often cross over and gene transfer between adjacent panther chameleon locales.
While it is clear that complex geographical variation among male coloration exists, locale descriptions are currently very subjective. This field of investigation would greatly benefit from rigorous scientific surveys, using a standardized methodology to quantify aspects of pattern and coloration that are consistent within populations at a given locale. This work would also allow for the identification of aspects of pattern and coloration that consistently differ among populations at different locales. In chapter 4 of their book “The Panther Chameleon: Color Variation, Natural History, Conservation, and Captive Management” (Kreiger Publishing 2004), Ferguson et al. put forward such a methodolgy, and used it to rigorously investigate the pattern and coloration of Panther chameleons from a selection of locales across its range in Madagascar. The locales investigated were Nosy Be, Ambanja, Diego Suarez/Sambava, and Maroantsetra/Tamatave. An extension of this survey work would shed further light on the complexity and extent of variation in colors and patterns of Panther chameleon populations at different locations.
A map showing the most common panther chameleon locales is given below, followed by links to descriptions of the colors and patterns commonly displayed by adult males from each locale.
Map Showing Popular Locales of Panther Chameleons in Madagascar, Reunion, and Mauritius
Please note that you need to have the Google Earth browser plugin installed to see this map.