Tuesday, January 31, 2012

ABC Wednesday: Chameleon

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A Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis), a species endemic to Madagascar (they live nowhere else). Males can reach a length of up to 50cm, females are only half that size.

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Chameleons do not change colour according to their surroundings. You don't get a tartan-pattern chameleon if you place it on a kilt or something (octopuses are absolutely capable of that, though). Chameleons use their colours to show their mood and to signal to others, the colours are also influeced by temperature and light. Here are gorgeous photos of panther chameleons in various colourings, some of it depends on where the individual chameleon lives (particularly, the populations on islands off the coast look different).

Here's a video of two fighting males, showing off with incredibly bright colours and here's another one, look at how dark and dull the inferior chameleon looks.

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Panther chameleons live in tropical forest, often spending their life in just one particular tree, although males usually range further to find mates. They are well adapted to climbing with their tongs-like feet and their long tail that can be used for balance and as a fifth hand if need be. For the night, they climb high up into the trees and settle down at the tips of branches to make it harder for predators to reach them.

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They feed on insects, waiting motionless until prey comes into view and then shooting it with their long tongue. Here's a video of this - note the broad tip of the tongue: the tip is formed like a tube and works like a suction cup. Together with their sticky saliva, it's very effective and insects have very little chance of freeing themselves once they stick to it.

Panther chameleons are sometimes kept as pets, but they are very sensitive and the vast majority of them die a slow death in captivity, even when they are not wildcaught. For information on how to keep a pet chameleon, take a look here and here, but know that they are among the most complicated lizards to keep.
In the wild, they are threatened by habitat destruction and by being caught for the pet trade - the majority die even before they reach a pet shop and the ones that do usually die in their first year in captivity, usually because the owner did not do any research on how to keep them.

More Cs at ABC Wednesday

Photos were taken at Hagenbecks Tierpark Hamburg.

Sources and further reading:
Arkive
Animal Diversity Web
Reptile Database
Wikipedia

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