The secret life of chameleons
The flap-necked chameleon is the most commonly encountered chameleon in South Africa. You might spot one of these large, green reptiles in the bush; they’re also regularly seen crossing roads in the northern and eastern parts of the country. Unfortunately, they’re often run over. The flap-necked chameleon is one of our bigger chameleon species and can grow to 35 cm in length (measured from head to tip of tail). It’s identified by a flap on its head, the size of which depends on where the animal lives – it tends to be smaller in the southern part of its range. Finding a chameleon is exciting enough; witnessing chameleon behaviour is even better. A while ago, I was fortunate enough to watch a female laying her eggs. Mating occurs in early to mid-summer and males fight one another for mating rights. In late summer, females will dig a hole in the ground and lay 25 to 60 small eggs. Usually she’ll use her front legs to do this, but some flap-necked females have been observed using their heads to move the soil! A layer of soil is deposited between each layer of eggs to protect them. This is a laborious process as chameleons are not exactly known for their speed. Once the deed is done, the female pats down the soil and leaves. No parental care takes place whatsoever. Five months to a year later, the hatchlings dig their way up and escape into the safety of nearby trees. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, groups of newly hatched chameleons can be seen together in shrubs. They disperse soon after, feeding on small insects and learning to fend for themselves. Additional sources: Chameleons of Southern Africa (2007) by Krystal Tolley and Marius Burger.