Common chameleon

Chameleon Care Guide

Chameleon Care Guide

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Chamaeleo (Chamaeleo) chamaeleon

TAXONOMY

Chamaeleo (Chamaeleo) chamaeleon Linnaeus, 1758, Europe, Middle East, Greece, northern Africa, Egypt (Sinai Peninsula), southwestern Saudi Arabia, and Yemen. Two subspecies are recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: European chameleon, Mediterranean chameleon; French: Caméléon commun; German: Europäisches Chamäleon, Gemeines Chamäleon.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The species attains a length of 8-15 in (200-400 mm). Females are often larger than males. Coloration varies but includes green, yellow, gray, and brown with numerous stripes and spots forming consistent patterns on each form.

DISTRIBUTION

Ch. c. chamaeleon occurs in southern Portugal, southern Spain, Canary Islands, Sicily, Malta, southern Turkey, Cyprus, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel, southern Peloponnese, Samos, Chios, Crete, western Sahara, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. Ch. c. musae inhabits the Sinai Peninsula and Egypt. Ch. c. orientalis is found in southwestern Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

HABITAT

Owing to a wide distribution, the species is found in numerous habitat types at elevations up to 8,500 ft (2,600 m), including forests, plantations, and scrub in semidesert or coastal regions, usually near a source of water.

BEHAVIOR

This chameleon is fairly aggressive toward conspecifics.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

The common chameleon feeds on a wide range of invertebrate and vertebrate prey, including young birds and reptiles, and some vegetation.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Specimens exposed to seasonal temperatures near freezing experience a dormant period (brumation) until temperatures become warmer. As they return to normal activity, males seek females for mating. Unreceptive females may gape, inflate with air, and butt males. Receptive females remain passive and permit copulation. Several copulations may occur per day until the female adopts dark coloration with orange markings and rejects the male's advances. Females produce up to 60 eggs after a gestation period of two months. Young emerge six to 11 months later, depending on climatic conditions and length of diapause, a dormant period in embryonic development.

CONSERVATION STATUS

The species is listed on Appendix II of CITES. In Greece it is strictly protected from collection, killing, abuse, wounding, captivity, and export by a presidential decree, and it is listed in the Greek Red Data Book of Threatened Vertebrates. Populations on Chios and Crete are believed to have been extirpated as of the late 1980s. It is included in the "European Community Habitats Directive" in Appendix IV as a priority species, requiring establishment of protected areas. The species has been proposed for an IUCN classification of Lower Risk: Conservation Dependent in Andalusia, Spain, and the European Union, with an additional classification of Vulnerable in the provinces of Huelva and Cadiz, Spain, based on a study conducted from 1993 to 1999. Major threats are habitat destruction and modification, road mortality, and translocation. The conservation status is unknown in northern Africa, the Middle East, and the Saudi Arabian Peninsula.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

The common chameleon was exported from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, and Morocco in limited numbers from 1986 to 1999 for the commercial pet trade. Life span and reproduction in captivity are considered very poor. Large numbers of specimens are collected and sold at markets in northern Africa for purposes of traditional folk medicine and to ward off bad luck. A common practice in Morocco is to throw live chameleons into a fire. Hundreds of dried chameleons are strung in groups of 30-50 using stout twine and hung in the food markets in Morocco. ♦

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