When facing tough times it is important to be flexible and adaptable. This helps us to cope better with the new challenges that come our way. One of the first creatures that come to mind when thinking about adaptability is the peculiar chameleon - the well-known little reptile with the ability to change their colour.
It is however a common misconception that chameleons change their colour to simply blend into their environment. Even though camouflage may play a certain role in some species, they actually change colour to communicate their mood. As an example they will typically show brighter colours when displaying aggression to other chameleons, and darker colours when they submit or ‘give up’. Their brains signal special skin cells that rearrange pigments to communicate their mood like feeling threatened, relaxed, aggressive or when wanting to attract a mate.
Chameleons are also ectothermic, or ‘cold-blooded’ and use colour to regulate their body temperatures. Darker colours absorb light and heat and will help to raise their temperature. Lighter colours will reflect light and heat, which in turn will either stabilise or lower their body temperature.
There are a vast number of different chameleon species and they can vary greatly in size and body structure. Did you know that the Brookesia micra is the world’s smallest chameleon and can only be found in Madagascar? It measures up to just 15mm in length, which is less than an inch. On the other spectrum of the scale is the Parson's chameleon. They can grow up to 27 inches (69.5 cm) long and is the largest chameleon found in the world.
Tanzania has a rich diversity of different Chameleon species. The most interesting to note however is that Tanzania is home to the most pygmy chameleons in the world with 12 different species recorded.
Of these pygmy chameleons, the Udzungwa Pygmy Chameleon is the tiniest and range in size from 25mm to 60mm (1 to 2½ inches). The only known population is found in the Udzungwa Mountains National Park in Tanzania. One of our Selous Safari Company team members was lucky enough to find and photograph an Udzungwa Pygmy Chameleon here. This particular chameleon was minute and measured at about 25mm. This was probably a male as the females tend to be slightly larger.
You will also hear that pygmy chameleons are sometimes called ‘stump-tailed chameleons’ due to their short tails. Unlike most other chameleons their tails are not prehensile, which simply means that they cannot be used to grasp objects with.
In 2016 an exciting new discovery was made in Tanzania, when a new species of chameleon was discovered. The Kinyongia msuyae, named after Charles A. Msuya, a pioneer of Tanzanian herpetology, is brown and green with scattered blue spots. The Swahili name for chameleon is Kinyonga.
Not many people know that the Jackson’s chameleon (Trioceros jacksonii) is native to Tanzania and Kenya, but has been introduced to the USA states of Florida, California and Hawaii. They are sometimes also called the Jackson’s Horned Chameleon due to the three ‘horns’ it has on its head. Jackson’s chameleon females are ovoviviparous, which means that they give birth to live young. They have a gestation period of six to seven months and can give birth to up to 50 live young.
The Spiny-flanked chameleon, Triceros laterispinis is also endemic to the Udzungwa Mountains of Tanzania. Its body colouration closely resembles lichen which gives it the perfect camouflage in the forests where it lives and has a preference for shrubs and understory trees. It is listed as vulnerable on the IUCN red list due mainly to habitat loss and an international pet trade. Like Jackson’s chameleon, of the same genus Trioceros, it is also one of only a few chameleons to give birth to live young.
The flap-necked chameleon, Chamaeleo delepis is the most observed species in our camps in Tanzania. During your stay you might come across one of these beautiful creatures. Chameleons can be hard to find, but the beauty of this is that there is always a chance that you will find one of these special creatures whether you are on a game drive, on a bush walk or simply walking around our camp grounds. Always keep a watchful eye out and ask your guide to help you find them.
Finally, it is also interesting to listen to the vast number of folklore stories that are being told about chameleons in Africa. Most of these stories were used by the elders to teach young kids to conserve and protect chameleons. One of our Selous Safari Company Guides, Amos has told us the particular story that his elders told him about chameleons. Watch our video below to listen to his story.