MOOD SWINGS AND COLOR SHIFTS

Animal Scene - - REPTILE SPOTLIGHT - Text by PAUL CATIANG Pho­tos by JEF­FREY C. LIM

Cur­rently a pop­u­lar house pet among rep­tile afi­ciona­dos, the veiled chameleon (Chamaeleo ca­lyp­tra­tus) orig­i­nated from Saudi Ara­bia, the United Arab Emi­rates, and Ye­men. In fact, it was so com­monly found in Ye­men that it is some­times called the “Ye­meni chameleon.” While the Ara­bian Penin­sula is com­monly as­so­ci­ated with its desert re­gions, it is the greener sub­trop­i­cal and trop­i­cal re­gions that are home to the veiled chameleon.

A HIGH-RISE LIFE­STYLE

In its nat­u­ral habi­tat, the chameleon is ar­bo­real, mak­ing its home up in the trees, where it can feed on in­sects, flow­ers, and leaves. They also drink from tree leaves, where rain or dew col­lects as wa­ter droplets. Dur­ing droughts, the chameleons have been ob­served to eat leaves as a source of mois­ture.

PRETTY BOYS AND SE­RI­OUS GIRLS

The veiled chameleon is also pretty large—the male of the species can grow up to 24 inches, with an av­er­age length of 14 to 18 inches. The fe­male chameleons are around half as long, at 12 inches, and are less col­or­ful.

The male chameleon is iden­ti­fied by its heel spur, a bony pro­tru­sion on the hind feet. Both male and fe­male chameleons have a casque: a crest above the head be­lieved to help chan­nel rain­wa­ter into their mouths. In males, the case is larger and more or­nately pat­terned than with fe­males.

COLOR ME MOODY

Like most species in its genus, the veiled chameleon’s scales change color, but not nec­es­sar­ily to match its sur­round­ings. A num­ber of fac­tors af­fect this color change: the lizard’s body tem­per­a­ture, its emo­tions, stress level, or state of health—it’s al­most like a mood ring.

The color in­cludes sev­eral shades and hues of green—deep olives, yel­low­green, moss—and some yel­lows, reds, and browns. Its pat­terns com­bine mot­tling, bar­ring, and streak­ing. How­ever, the chameleon’s color changes aren’t a di­rect at­tempt to blend in with its sur­round­ings.

LIFE IN THE UR­BAN JUN­GLE

Veiled chameleons adapt eas­ily to life as pets, although they have sev­eral needs that should be con­sid­ered. First, their en­clo­sure needs to re­sem­ble their orig­i­nal habi­tats to some de­gree. They will need some height and fo­liage for it to re­sem­ble an ar­bo­real en­vi­ron­ment, not to men­tion ac­com­mo­date their size. Live plants are also rec­om­mended, like fi­cus trees, schef­flera, hibis­cus, and pothos. These will pro­vide ar­eas for climb­ing and hid­ing, which will be good ex­er­cise for them.

Sec­ond, they need a tem­per­a­ture gra­di­ent within their en­clo­sure. This means sources of heat, like heat bulbs or rocks that they can bask on every morn­ing. Chameleons also need UVB rays to help in their cal­cium ab­sorp­tion. As glass fil­ters these rays out, a full-spec­trum light may be needed in­side the en­clo­sure. At night, no heat will be needed, and in fact the chameleons will need the tem­per­a­ture drop. Of course, a nat­u­ral-light en­clo­sure can also en­sure all this, when de­signed with the help of a rep­tile spe­cial­ist.

Third, chameleons are ter­ri­to­rial. Those wish­ing to care for more than one will need to pro­vide one en­clo­sure for each in­di­vid­ual.

Fourth, the chameleon will need reg­u­lar food and wa­ter. This means crick­ets— usu­ally gut-loaded for bet­ter nutri­tion. These and other in­sects they catch by shoot­ing out their tongues—al­most twice their body length—at high speeds. Be­cause they move slowly, veiled chameleons are ambush preda­tors; they lie in wait for their in­sect prey and strike at the right mo­ment. Ju­ve­niles of up to 12 months old can eat up to 12 crick­ets daily, while older chameleons eat less, around 10 crick­ets per day.

They drink wa­ter with reg­u­lar mist­ing. Be­cause they evolved to live in the trees, chameleons tend not to drink from pools of wa­ter. In­stead, they sip wa­ter droplets that col­lect in leaves. A mis­ter can pro­vide the wa­ter they need, whether by hand or au­to­mated with a timer. Some chameleon keep­ers also use a drip sys­tem to grad­u­ally splash wa­ter onto the leaves in an en­clo­sure.

Fifth, chameleons ben­e­fit from reg­u­lar in­ter­ac­tion with their keep­ers. This can be­gin with feed­ing times and may progress from there. Not all chameleons wel­come be­ing han­dled, so get­ting to know your chameleon will take time.

BREED­ING GROUNDS

Fe­male chameleons lay in­fer­tile eggs pe­ri­od­i­cally, and it is im­por­tant to give them a place to lay eggs. Egg bind­ing, which hap­pens when the fe­male can­not lay her eggs, is fatal to chameleons. A gravid fe­male can lay her eggs in a lay­ing bin of around 16 square inches with a 12-inch ver­mi­culite sub­strate. She will then dig a tun­nel in which to lay her eggs (around 20 to 70 eggs) and then will cover it com­pletely. At this point, the lay­ing bin should be left ex­actly as it is. The eggs usu­ally in­cu­bate for six to nine months.

It is ad­vised that fe­male chameleons be at least a year old be­fore they are bred. This gives them time to de­velop cal­cium stores for the eggshells.

Q:The veiled chameleon ap­pears to be one of the most pop­u­lar chameleon species. In your opin­ion, why is the veiled chameleon pop­u­lar?

A:It is pop­u­lar be­cause of its abil­ity to change color. Chameleons can change color depend­ing on what they are hold­ing on to. And there’s also their very long tongues; they can stretch these out to twice their body length. They are pop­u­lar, and are bred and sold lo­cally.

Vet­eran veiled chameleon keeper Al­bert Ta­gasa shared his knowl­edge of the crea­ture with An­i­mal Scene in this ex­clu­sive in­ter­view.

Q:Can you give us a ba­sic in­tro­duc­tion to the veiled chameleon and how it came to be in the Philip­pines?

A:Aside from its abil­ity to change color, an­i­mal lovers and keep­ers worked to im­port them from the USA. From there, many an­i­mal lovers fell in love with these an­i­mals and many peo­ple just got them for pets.

Q:How big can you ex­pect it to grow, how long is its lifespan, and what other ba­sics should those in­ter­ested in it know?

A:Males can grow as long as 2 feet, and fe­males are smaller. Gen­er­ally, ac­cord­ing to what I’ve read in fo­rums of keep­ers from around the world, they can live up to 10 years in cap­tiv­ity.

Q:What for you are the defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics of the veiled chameleon, the thing or things that make them spe­cial and/ or dis­tin­guishes them from other, sim­i­lar crea­tures?

A:Com­pared to other species of chameleons, this specie is the hardi­est among them. They are eas­ier to take care of; they can eas­ily cope with our en­vi­ron­ment, most es­pe­cially our weather. They are more sta­ble health­wise com­pared to other species.

Q:Was it dif­fi­cult for you to raise a veiled chameleon? What are the best things you’ve learned about keep­ing it, in your ex­pe­ri­ence? What chal­lenges did you face in its care, and how did you over­come these?

A:At first, I was con­fused and I was over­think­ing whether I could re­ally raise them, and I al­ways got neg­a­tive feed­back in re­sponse to ques­tions about rais­ing them. For ex­am­ple, peo­ple I asked would cite our weather, say­ing that it won’t sur­vive here in the Philip­pines.

After all the neg­a­tive com­ments and feed­back, I fi­nally de­cided to try tak­ing care of a pair of veiled chameleons my­self. At first, I ba­bied them. I put them in a nice en­clo­sure with a full set-up (live plants, wood branches, and a wa­ter mis­ter).

The chal­lenges I was con­cerned about after pur­chas­ing them was whether they would be able to eas­ily cope with their new en­vi­ron­ment or en­clo­sure. Would they eat, and could I re­ally raise them to adult­hood?

I con­tin­ued to read and do re­search about their care as I kept them. Then I came to re­al­ize that I could just let them be! I just had to give them food, pet them, and give them fresh wa­ter ev­ery­day. Dis­cov­er­ing this was the fi­nal key to over­com­ing my chal­lenges. Yes, I en­coun­tered prob­lems along the way, but be­cause I was de­ter­mined to do it right and was will­ing to do what it took to raise them, I over­come my fear that they might sud­denly just die.

Q:What are the char­ac­ter­is­tics of a healthy veiled chameleon? Con­versely, what signs should keep­ers look out for that in­di­cate when it is sick? What are its com­mon health prob­lems that keep­ers should watch out for?

A:The char­ac­ter­is­tics of healthy chameleons, from my own ex­pe­ri­ence, is that you see them eat and drink ev­ery­day. The chang­ing of color some­times in­di­cates stress; if you see them change color in an in­stant, don’t touch them or try to hold them.

De­hy­dra­tion is the num­ber one prob­lem in keep­ing chameleons. Let’s keep in mind that chameleons don’t drink from a wa­ter dish, they drink wa­ter from the leaves. So how can you make sure they don’t get de­hy­drated? The use of a wa­ter spray, wa­ter mis­ter, and wa­ter drop­per are among the ways to make them drink. When you spray wa­ter di­rectly on the leaves in their habi­tat, you will see them lick­ing the leaves or wait­ing for the wa­ter to drip from the leaves. You will surely en­joy watch­ing them drink wa­ter.

Q:For some­one who is in­ter­ested in keep­ing the veiled chameleon for a pet, can you give them things to con­sider be­fore tak­ing the plunge? Who would they make ideal pets for? Or are they bet­ter suited to afi­ciona­dos who want to study them? Do you have tips for those who want to care for them?

A:Own­ing these kind of pet re­quires time and ded­i­ca­tion. If you are a busy per­son, then maybe this kind of pet won’t suit you. You need to feed and give them fresh wa­ter ev­ery­day with the use of a wa­ter spray (about 2-3 times a day). But you can also use a wa­ter mis­ter with an au­to­matic timer.

You must al­ways know your pet’s at­ti­tude and tem­per­a­ment. Know­ing these will help you un­der­stand your pets bet­ter.

Q:Are there any risks in­volved in keep­ing the veiled chameleon? If so then what is your ad­vice on how to best avoid or lessen these risks?

A:They are not ven­omous, but some­times, when they are fright­ened or scared, they show ag­gres­sion. If this oc­curs, re­frain from touch­ing or try­ing to hold them. Males should be sep­a­rated from fe­males as they be­come more dom­i­nant due to the size difference. Fe­males may be­come stressed be­cause of bul­ly­ing.

Q:How does the veiled chameleon in­ter­act with hu­mans? Can they show af­fec­tion the way tra­di­tional pets do (the way the “Tan­gled” chameleon does), or do they ex­press them­selves another way?

A:Yes, if you ded­i­cate much of your time to them. When you put your hands in front of them, they will climb on your hand then you can cud­dle them or pet them. Just be gen­tle and care­ful. (With edit­ing by CFB)

TAX­ON­OMY King­dom: An­i­malia Phy­lum: Chor­data Class: Rep­tilia Or­der: Squa­mata Subor­der: Sau­ria Fam­ily: Chamaeleonidae Genus: Chamaeleo Species: C. ca­lyp­tra­tus

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