Chama Chama Chama Chama Chama Chameleon!
Image by Mike Currie
More often than not it is the bigger animals that draw all the attention in the bush. One will never get tired of listening to the powerful roar of the king, or seeing a cheetah pursuing its prey, however there is so much more on offer!
There are some amazing smaller creatures that often go unnoticed. Not because of being unimportant, purely because going unnoticed is what they do best. I would like to share some information on one of these little animals, a personal favourite of mine, the flap – necked chameleon.
The name “chameleon” means “dwarf lion” as they can be quite fears when defending themselves from danger. They will inflate, hiss and lunge forward at their enemy. They might then simply drop to the ground and scamper away whilst the enemy is still in shock. Although they usually move slowly, during emergencies they can move quite rapidly.
The name flap – necked chameleon (one in picture – and most numerous one in the area) comes from the flap of skin at the back of the head. The flap helps the chameleon to blend into its habitat. Chameleons also have cryptic colouration making sure they don’t stand out in between the leaves. They will often just stay still to avoid attention from predators; however if they do move it is in a slow jerky fashion mimicking the movement of wind through leaves. I have spotted ranger Pierre trying to use this technique after breaking something in the workshop. Needless to say without the cryptic colouration he wasn’t successful.
Chameleons have amazing eyes! They can move independently and thus they almost have 360 degree vision at any given time except directly behind them. They need this as they are preyed upon by a number of predators including a variety of birds, raptors ( the cuckoo hawk specializes in chameleons ), vervet monkeys, boomslang, vine snakes, monitor lizards and more.
The ability to change colour is done by nerves that control cells called ‘melanophores’. These ‘melanophores’ can be flooded with black pigment called melanin. Chameleons do not as most believe change colour for reasons of camouflage as their cryptic colour camouflages them already. They do however change colour in response to mood or temperature. If stressed flap – necked chameleons change to brown or black. When aggressive they change to contrasting dark and light colours. During the period of courting a female the male flap – necked chameleon will develop a white throat skin.
When it comes to food they love beetles and grasshoppers. They catch their prey using their super long telescopic tongues. It can extend more than the length of the body out of the mouth at the speed of up to 5meters per second. The end of the tongue acts like a suction cup securing the prey.
Breeding can be quite a long affair for such a small animal. Mating will take about 30 minutes. The eggs will take between 2-3 months to develop after which the female will then lay between 20 – 35 eggs, or even up to 60 in the case of older females. Eggs will then take between 10 months and a year to hatch.
It is a real treat when one comes across these beautiful little creatures in the bush.
Next time you visit us here at Amakhosi I wish you the best of luck in finding one of them on drive. Remember it’s not all about the big 5!
Hope to see you soon!
Image by Mike Currie