Parsons chameleon

Calumma parsonii

TAXONOMY

Calumma parsonii Cuvier, 1832, Madagascar. Three geographically discrete forms are recognized, based on size, eye turret color, and/or color of the scales outlining the mouth. One subspecies is recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

French: Caméléon de Parson; German: Parsons Chamäleon; Spanish: Camaleón Parson; Malagasy: Ranotoetrabe, ranotohi-tra, taintrotro, tampamaly.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

This species grows to 12-28 in (305—71l mm) in length. The nominate form is one of the three largest and the heaviest of all species of chameleons, at weights up to 24.5 oz (700 g). Males are tan, turquoise, or blue-green, with white, tan, or yellow scales outlining the edge of the mouth, orange or blue-green eye turrets, and two robust bony horns protruding from the snout. Females are red-brown, green, or blue-green. Three or more prominent dark stripes curve down from the dorsum toward the anterior of the body. There is no dorsal crest. Juveniles are orange, blue-green, or tan. The subspecies, Calumma parsonii cristifer, is 10—18 in (254—457 mm). Males are deep blue-green with a rust blotch on the flank and a complete dorsal crest. Females are tan, orange, or green.

DISTRIBUTION

C. p. parsonii occurs in Ifanadiana and Ikongo, southeastern Madagascar, and Vavatenina, Nosy Boraha, and Maroantsetra, northeastern Madagascar. C. p. cristifer is found in Andasibe.

HABITAT

C. p. parsonii has been described as originating from primary rainforest, but as of 2002 little intact forest remained within the known range of distribution. Observations after the 1960s have been limited to fragments of disturbed forest and shady mature tree plantations, such as coffee, lychee, and mango. This species preferentially selects dense vegetation and avoids direct sunlight. The C. p. cristifer habitat is largely within the boundaries of a well-protected national park retaining undisturbed moist montane rainforest as of 2002.

BEHAVIOR

Parson's chameleon is sedentary and shy. Males engage in dramatic territorial displays but are otherwise passive. Females are easily stressed and display with yellow blotches distributed over the head and body.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

The species consumes a wide variety of vertebrate and invertebrate prey, including small lizards and birds. Malagasy residents report consumption of flowers, fruits, and dry leaves as a component of the total diet.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

No detailed long-term research has been performed on the reproductive biology of C. p. parsonii, but data from captive management indicate that sexual maturity and adult size are attained between three and five years of age, substantially later than any other species of Chamaeleonidae. Courtship and copulation begin from two to four months after winter brumation (dormancy) ends, and the mating season lasts approximately eight weeks. Gestation is from three to five months, and incubation has varied from 13 to 24 months in captivity. Clutch size is 20—60 eggs, and the interval between clutches is one year. Less is known of the reproductive biology for C. p. cristifer. In 1997 one clutch of 37 eggs produced 35 live hatchlings in captivity after 13 months of incubation.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not listed by the IUCN, but listed on Appendix II of CITES; proposals to uplist it to Appendix I were submitted in 1998

and 2001. The 1995 CITES moratorium on importation failed to halt sporadic commercial trade, at least through 2002. The continuing levels and patterns of exploitation place small populations at risk of extirpation and decreased reproductive potential. As of 2002 C. p. parsonii had not been documented in a protected area for more than 30 years. This species is at risk of extinction because it is known from relatively few sites, the distribution structure is highly fragmented, and it is a specialist of a rapidly declining habitat. C. p. cristifer is vulnerable to extinction because population densities are low, and it is known only from a few sites. Conservation is dependent on preservation of suitable habitat and prevention of commercial trade.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

From 1986 to 1995, 19,000 wild-taken specimens of C. parsonii were exported legally for the commercial pet trade, and sporadic illegal trade continued subsequent to the 1995 CITES moratorium on importation, owing to high international demand and escalating retail selling prices. Despite long life expectancy, fewer than 1% of specimens imported before 1995 remained alive by 2002, and fewer than 300 neonates had hatched alive in captivity. ♦

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