CHAMELEON kə me’ li ən (כֹּחַ, H3947, koch; chameleon KJV; land crocodile RSV). (See Lizard for fuller discussion.) This is found once only in a section that some authorities regard as a list of lizards (Lev 11:30). The same root koch is found frequently (120 times) meaning “power” or “strength.” This could have reference to the extraordinary strength of the highly modified ft. which have become claspers with two claws as opposed to three. A chameleon holding firmly to a branch can hardly be removed without danger of damage. Whether or not this tr. is correct the common chameleon (Chameleo chameleon) is well-known in wooded areas from Pal. along the N Mediterranean coast. It is a small species, with a length up to six inches.

It is remarkable that no more specific reference is made to it, for its many strange features make it the object of intense dread in many parts of Africa. It is unique in having independent eyes, with colored lids fused over the eyes and moving with them; a tongue that is projected to roughly the body’s length to catch prey; and a skin of which the color can be varied, in part only to match the background, for other factors also can cause a change. The chameleon feeds on small insects.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(koach, the Revised Version (British and American) LAND CROCODILE (Le 11:30); tinshemeth, the King James Version mole, the Revised Version (British and American) CHAMELEON (Le 11:30)):

Koach, which in the King James Version is rendered "chameleon" and in the Revised Version (British and American) "land crocodile," means also "strength" or "power," as in Ge 4:12; 1Sa 2:9; Ps 22:15; Isa 40:29, and many other passages. The Septuagint has chamaileon, but on account of the ordinary meaning of the word, koach, it has been thought that some large lizard should be understood here. The desert monitor, Varanus griseus, one of the largest of lizards, sometime attaining the length of 4 ft., is common in Palestine and may be the animal here referred to. The name "monitor" is a translation of the German warnen, "to warn," with which has been confused the Arabic name of this animal, waran or waral, a word of uncertain etymology.

The word tinshemeth in the same verse is rendered in the King James Version "mole" and in the Revised Version (British and American) "chameleon." The Septuagint has aspalax (= spalax, "mole"). Tinshemeth also occurs in the lists of unclean birds in Le 11:18 and De 14:16, where it is rendered: the King James Version "swan"; the Revised Version (British and American) "horned owl"; Septuagint porphurion (i.e. "coot" or, according to some, "heron"); Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A. D.) cygnus, "swan." It appears to come from the root nasham, "to breathe"; compare neshamah, "breath" (Ge 2:7; Job 27:3 the King James Version, etc.). It has therefore in Le 11:30 been referred to the chameleon on account of the chameleon’s habit of puffing up its body with air and hissing, and in the other passages to the pelican, on account of the pelican’s great pouched bill.

The common chameleon is abundant in Palestine, being found also in North Africa and in Spain. The other species of chameleons are found principally in Africa and Madagascar. It is not only a harmless but a decidedly useful creature, since it feeds upon insects, especially flies. Its mode of capturing its prey is most interesting. It slowly and cautiously advances until its head is from 4 to 6 inches from the insect, which it then secures by darting out its tongue with great rapidity. The pigment cel ls in its skin enable it to change its color from pale yellow to bright green, dark green and almost black, so that it can harmonize very perfectly with its surroundings. Its peculiar toes and prehensile tail help to fit it for its life in the trees. Its prominent eyes with circular lids, like iris diaphragms can be moved independently of each other, and add to its striking appearance.


See also

  • Animals