Can Chameleons Actually Hear? (Comparing Sounds)

  • By: Reptilia Planet
  • Date: September 26, 2021
  • Time to read: 11 min.

Can chameleons hear? Although chameleons are great pets for people of all ages, they are solitary animals and not easy to maintain. Many people who want to keep chameleons as pets want to know everything about them.

There are many unique characteristics of chameleons, such as changing skin color, rotating their eyes 360 degrees, excellent ultraviolet perception with sharp eyes, and high-speed tongues using the accelerator muscle and the hyoglossus.

Long story short, there are so many things that make chameleons unique reptiles. Most owners want to know about their habitat, food, temperature settings, humidity levels they can tolerate, sight and hearing, etc.

Chameleons have many advanced mechanisms that help them perform many important functions, such as preying with their powerful tongue.

Research shows that chameleons have a different hearing mechanism and their auditory organ is different in structure than many other reptiles, including the typical lizards.

Can Chameleons actually hear? Although chameleons have not the most powerful hearing mechanism, they can listen to some sounds. Research shows that chameleons can hear sounds with frequencies ranging between 200HZ and 600HZ.

The sound wave frequency these reptiles hear is pretty good, considering they don’t have an outer ear opening and the eardrum.

Even when you look closely at your chameleon’s head, you won’t see its ears. The reason is that these reptiles lack out ear structures. However, chameleons do have two microscopic holes that act as ears.

Each hole is close to the eye on either side of the head.

Remember, these tiny ears are extremely docile and powerless. That’s why chameleons rely on other senses, particularly their eyesight to find food and protect themselves from predators.

How Do Chameleons Hear Sounds?

So we have already answered the important question “can chameleons actually hear.” Now let’s go into more details and see exactly how these reptiles hear sounds?

Picking Up Vibrations

Most reptiles detect sounds through vibration and frequency and the same can be said about chameleons. They will use this ability to alert them of any dangers (mostly from predators).

Chameleons are very similar to snakes and do not have any outer ear structures instead they have a unique bone structure called a quadrate bone, which gives them the ability to sense vibrations.

If you take a closer look around their eyes where the quadrate bone is located your notice a tiny hole and this is what helps them detect and interpret vibrations.

Chameleons also have a membrane located in the side of their head which they use to hear low tones. When the membrane detects low tones this causes the membrane to vibrate.

Unfortunately, the chameleon can’t hear very well through these tiny holes so they have to rely on their other senses such as touch and sight to help guide them.

Touch And Sight

Although chameleons don’t have the best hearing mechanism, they can listen to sounds via their auditory papilla.

Research highlights that basilar papilla is a sensory organ of certain animals, such as birds, lizards, and amphibians. The basilar papilla is somewhat equivalent to the organ of Corti in mammals.

The papilla contains epithelial cells called “hair cells.” These cells are not true hair but play a key role in chameleons’ hearing.

Unlike other reptiles, chameleons lack external ear opening and tympanic membrane. These reptiles do not have cochlea but have membrane located at the head’s sides to hear low-frequency sounds.

The vibration occurs inside the membrane when it receives low-frequency tones. Chameleon’s head has bones that channel these sound waves to the auditory organ or basilar papilla.

When the vibrations reach the papilla, the chameleon hears the sound.

The auditory organ is mostly used for communication purposes. For instance, when one chameleon produces a growling sound, the other hears it through its basilar papilla. Human beings can’t hear these tones.

However, you can feel the vibration when you touch your chameleon, and it starts making the growling sound.

On the other hand, adult chameleons use the growling sound during the mating process to safeguard themselves. The growling sound other smaller chameleons hear can scare them.

As a result, the smaller ones don’t come close to the mating adult chameleons. One study conducted an experiment to determine how chameleons hear mechanical vibrations and aerial sounds.

Researchers found that chameleons hear aerial sounds through the pterygoid plate present on the sides of their heads, similar to snakes.

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How Much Sound Can Chameleon Hear?

Chameleons can hear sounds of frequency ranging between 200HZ and 600HZ. The chameleon ear is not well-developed compared to other reptiles and lizards.

The internal structure is slightly different than that of the usual lizard’s pattern. There is no visible tympanic membrane external ear opening.

The cochlea’s round window is also not present.

A research study published in the Journal of Experimental Zoology measured the auditory sensitivity of cochlea in two chameleon species: Chamaeleo Quilensis and Chamaeleo Senegalensis.

Researchers found that these two species had poor sensitivity electrical potentials of the cochlea than other lizards.

It is crucial to know that the 200-600HZ frequency is a very low range of sound. In contrast, a human being can hear sounds between the frequency range of 20HZ and 20KHZ.

It means the human ear has higher sensitivity for vibrations and sounds. Unlike chameleons, the human ear can hear softest to loudest sounds, such as whispers and explosions, respectively.

But, we are talking about chameleons.

These reptiles have an insensitive hearing mechanism, which means they won’t hear a whisper or an explosion or loud music.

Chameleon’s hearing is very limited and can listen to low-frequency sounds, such as a deep, grave voice or vacuum sound.

Besides, if you have other pets at home, such as dogs or cats, your chameleon won’t hear them barking or meowing.

However, if your canine friend is barking near a chameleon, the sound waves will make vibrations in the auditory papilla and allow it to hear the sound.

In simple words, if the sound is below 200HZ, the chameleon won’t be able to hear it. Likewise, if it is above 600HZ, the papilla still won’t perceive it and cause auditory sensation or signals to its brain.

Are Chameleons Afraid of Sound?

As we mentioned earlier, chameleons do not have an external ear opening, but the ear’s internal structure is slightly developed. It means your chameleon can hear sounds.

Because your chameleon does not have an outer ear, it can’t detect or identify aerial sounds. One research study has already proven in two chameleon species.

On the other hand, chameleons can hear low-pitched sounds with longer wavelengths.

When the sound waves hit the chameleon’s head, the vibration is transmitted into the inner ear where the waves are processed, and signals are sent to the brain.

Many things in your house produce low-frequency sounds. These things are phone ringing, TV sound, bass sound from a speaker, and vacuuming. 

Chameleons can hear deep tones with a lower frequency and longer wavelength. Therefore, if your chameleon hears an unusual sound with lower frequency, the noise will scare it away.

Moreover, if you have other pets like dogs and cats at home, their barking and meowing won’t’ scare your chameleon.

A dog’s bark frequency range is between 1000Hz and 2000Hz. Because chameleons can hear a specific sound frequency, a dog’s bark won’t disturb your pet.

However, if the dog is nearby, the vibration may occur a slight sensation in the internal ear (auditory papilla).

Likewise, a research study published on NCBI highlights that a cat’s meow frequency range is 400Hz and 1200Hz. If your cat’s meows below 600 Hz, your chameleon will hear it.

The sound may scare your pet.

Can Chameleon Hear Your Voice?

The human voice frequency range varies a lot. For instance, the frequency of complex speech tone lies between 100Hz and 120Hz. What does this mean and can chameleon actually hear you?

It means if you shout near your chameleon, it won’t hear you because the frequency of your voice is below the minimum auditory frequency of the chameleon. Therefore, you should not worry about your chameleon being afraid of sounds and noises.

Do you know the term “Fundamental Frequency?” It is an important concept associated with the human voice. Basically, the fundamental frequency is the lowest frequency of a human voice signal.

It also focuses on the voice’s pitch and speech’s intonation.

For example, the average frequency of a man’s voice is 125Hz, whereas a woman’s frequency is 200Hz. Well, this is very interesting. Considering this information, if you are a female owner, your chameleon will almost hear you.

A child’s fundamental frequency is 300HZ. It means your chameleon can clearly hear the voice of your kid. Anyway, if you want a chameleon to listen to your voice, you can use a high-quality microphone and speaker.

But, make sure you arrange the equipment that accurately covers the 200Hz to 600Hz frequency. That way, your chameleon will hear you.

Let me give you the logic behind this. A speaker changes your voice’s pitch, meaning your fundamental frequency has changed too.

As a result, when the speaker produces a sound that ranges between 200Hz and 600Hz, your chameleon will hear it.

There are two different sounds produced by human beings on the voice’s frequency spectrum. These are consonant and vowel sounds. We have found that vowel sounds have a frequency range between 500Hz and 2,000Hz.

It means if you make vowel sounds with 500-600 frequency, your chameleon will hear you.

Can Chameleons Hear Music?

The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. Yes, a chameleon can hear music if the sound coming out of the speaker or instrument is between 200Hz and 600Hz.

If it is not between the ranges, then your chameleon won’t hear music.

Some people say that listening to music depends on your pet’s personality and its grooming. However, this is just a myth and has no scientific basis.

As a firm believer in science, we have done extensive research on this subject and found that it is all about the frequency range and wavelengths.

Music with longer wavelengths and lower frequencies are audible to your chameleon. For example, if you play some music, increase the bass to 100%, and decrease the treble to zero, the speaker will produce sound with a longer wavelength.

Remember, the longer wavelength has lower frequencies. That way, the music is audible to your chameleon.

It is crucial to observe your pet’s reaction to music your play. If your chameleon shows signs of discomfort or stress, stop the music immediately.

However, some owners say that high-pitched music causes their chameleons to stand up on their hind legs.

However, we don’t believe them because it is against science, which tells us that chameleons do not react to high-pitch sounds. I recommend you should avoid playing low-pitched music because it can scare your chameleon.

The low-frequency music your chameleon hear will be perceived as a threat from a predator. In such a situation, your chameleon may get stressed and ready its defense mechanisms.

Moreover, music with balanced treble and bass is around 300 Hz, which is considered mid-frequency for human beings. However, it might be loud enough for your chameleon and thus scare it.

Can Chameleon Hear Crickets?

The Stridulatory Organ is an important part of the cricket’s body that helps it produce different sounds. It is a large vein that runs along the cricket’s wing.

Teeth cover the crickets Stridulatory organ, and the sound is produced when the teeth or the organ rubs against the two wings.

The opening and closing of the wings are essential for sound production. However, research highlights that the closing phase is more responsible for sound production in crickets.

A cricket organizes its teeth to produce a pure tone call.

Dr Fernando Zapata conducted a research study at the University of Lincoln, UK. The study shows that crickets produce sounds at low frequencies of 2,000 Hz and 8,000 Hz.

Because human beings can hear sounds with a frequency between 20Hz and 20,000Hz, they can listen to crickets. Considering the vocal frequency of crickets, chameleons won’t be able to hear them.

Let’s make an assumption. If a cricket starts making sounds with lower frequencies, even then your chameleon won’t hear them. It is because there is a lot of difference between the frequency ranges of chameleons and crickets.

For example, the maximum frequency a chameleon can hear is 600Hz, whereas the lowest vocal frequency of cricket is 2,000 Hz. The difference is, therefore, 1400Hz.

So, there is no way your chameleon can hear the sound of crickets. Besides, we think they may perceive a little bit of the vibration, but then again, it won’t affect the auditory papilla of your beloved pet.

Can Chameleon Hear Birds? 

Birds are one of the biggest predators of chameleons besides snakes. Birds usually look for chameleons in lower foliage, shrubs, and trees. When birds see this reptile, they won’t hesitate to eat it.

Because chameleons are vulnerable to birds, they must protect themselves. Despite their typical defense mechanism, many people ask can chameleon hear birds?

Many birds make sounds with frequencies that are ranging between 1,000Hz and 8,000Hz. These sounds or songs are pleasant to human hearing but do not affect chameleons.

Again, it is all about the auditory frequency of chameleons. Some birds like kinglets, waxwings, and sparrows produce sound with a frequency range of 8,000Hz.

Birds like brown creeper make sounds between 3750 and 8,000 Hz, Blackpoll Warbler between 6,000 and 8,000 Hz, and Cedar Waxwing between 6,000 and 8,000.

Considering these frequencies, it is pretty clear that chameleons can’t hear birds.

Are there any birds that can be heard by chameleons? Well, there is a need for more research to establish solid evidence about it. One study found that fewer bird species make low-frequency sounds.

The study’s researchers analyzed the vocalization of Western Capercaillie males and found that they have a fundamental frequency of 25.6Hz to 31.6Hz. But, this frequency range is low than 200Hz, meaning, chameleons can’t hear it.

Conclusion

Do you wonder how chameleons protect themselves from predators or perceive their surrounding environment when they have a poor sense of smell and hearing?

Well, chameleons have stronger eyesight, and their eyes are located on each side of their heads.

A chameleon’s eyes can move independently from each other at 180 degrees, giving them the ability to easily view the surrounding environment.

Because each eye works independently, the worldview they have is 360 degrees.

Although chameleons cannot hear crickets, insects, and other animals, they can see them quite easily and as far away as 5-10 meters.

Thus, these reptiles communicate more with their excellent visual abilities and less through hearing.

Chameleons are almost deaf reptiles that have a poor auditory mechanism or system. However, they can communicate with one another because all species have the same auditory frequency range.

Besides detecting some audible tones, these reptiles can feel vibrations in the air that come from the insect’s wing, for example. According to Peggy S.M. Hill’s research study published in Oxford Journals, chameleons can detect vibrations produced by plants.

Peggy found that chameleons creating and detecting plant-born vibrations are part of their communication system since their own auditory mechanism is not well-established.

Moreover, suppose you play music on loudspeakers with heavy bass and low treble, and the sound produced have a frequency that matches your chameleon’s auditory papilla frequency.

In that case, there is a good chance that your chameleon will hear it.

Keep in mind that there is no established scientific evidence that shows the effects of sound on chameleon’s brain.

However, some people say that low frequency sounds with longer wavelengths can scare chameleons and cause anxiety if they hear them continuously.