The name of this reptile is included among “the swarming creatures” that were “unclean” under the Mosaic Law. (Le 11:29, 30) The name is considered to have been derived from na·shamʹ, a root word meaning “pant.” (Compare Isa 42:14.) Koehler and Baumgartner, by a comparison with Arabic, suggest “snorter” as the meaning. (Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros, Leiden, 1958, p. 1035) While identification is uncertain, the name may apply to the chameleon. The common Chamaeleo chamaeleon is frequently found in Egypt and Palestine.
The chameleon is a slow-moving, tree-dwelling lizard noted for its color-changing ability. Color response is primarily determined by temperature, light intensity, and emotional state.
At Leviticus 11:18 the same Hebrew word is applied to the swan as among “unclean” fowl.