Panther chameleon

Furcifer pardalis

TAXONOMY

Furcifer pardalis Cuvier, 1829, Madagascar. OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Caméléon panthère; German: Pantherchamaleon; Malagasy: Amboalava, tana.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

This species grows to 8-17 in (305-381 mm) in length. The coloration of adult males can vary significantly between geographic locales, but usually it includes two or three predominant colors from the following palette: pink, red, maroon, orange, yellow, green, turquoise, cobalt blue, brown, tan, gray, black, and white. Excited coloration may produce additional colors on various parts of the body that are not obvious in a calm male. There is a broken white, bluish, or cream lateral stripe midflank. Regardless of geographic locale, females are shades of reddish orange or tan marked with brown or black. Juveniles are reddish brown or gray and black at birth. These color variants are not considered valid subspecies as of 2002, but there is anecdotal evidence that interbreeding specimens from distant locales results in sterile offspring. The snout terminates in a short bony process that is more prominent in males than females, and the chameleons possess complete dorsal, ventral, and gular crests.

DISTRIBUTION

The species occupies roughly the northern third of Madagascar, from Toamasina on the central-eastern coast to Amban-izana in the Masoala Peninsula, Sambava on the northeastern coast, Antsiranana in the north, and Ankaramy on the northwestern coast. They also inhabit islets adjacent to Madagascar: Nosy Be, Nosy Komba, Nosy Tanikely, Nosy Faly, Nosy Mangabe, and Nosy Boraha. They have been introduced to the island of Réunion.

HABITAT

The species is arboreal and primarily inhabits degraded or anthropogenic vegetation, including forest and scrub as well as the undisturbed edges of rainforest on Nosy Be, Nosy Mangabe, and the Masoala Peninsula.

BEHAVIOR

Males are active and highly mobile and frequently are seen crossing roads. Females are more sedentary and secretive. The species is not particularly aggressive toward conspecifics or humans.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

The panther chameleon feeds on invertebrate and vertebrate prey typical for medium-size to large chameleons as well as some vegetation.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Panther chameleons lay 10-46 eggs about 45 days after copulation and can produce more than four clutches of eggs annually. The young hatch four to nine months later, depending on climatic conditions. Growth is rapid, and sexual maturity occurs between the ages of six and nine months.

CONSERVATION STATUS

This species is listed on Appendix II of CITES. Before 1999 commercial trade was unrestricted, and more than 34,000 wild-taken specimens were exported from Madagascar in 1998 alone, raising concerns that local populations of distinctive color variants would be extirpated. An annual export quota of 2,000 specimens was established by CITES in 1999, to reduce trade volume. Conservation is not dependent on preserving natural habitat, owing to the mostly successful adaptation of this species to heavily degraded habitat.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

The panther chameleon is captured extensively for the international commercial pet trade. More than 100,000 specimens were exported between 1986 and 1999. Captive breeding programs experienced limited success by producing several generations, but there were no established commercial closed-cycle operations as of 2002 where only captive-born adult animals lay eggs to provide the stock that is subsequently sold. ♦

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