How much do you know about chameleons?

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In late March 2019, Nick Evans from KwaZulu-Natal Amphibian and Reptile Conservation was lucky enough to observe a flap-necked chameleon (Chamaeleo dilepis) laying her eggs.  Unlike sea turtles that lay all their eggs at once, flap-necked chameleons lay one egg at a time and then bury it before laying the next one.

Once a year, from March to April, the females lay about 40 to 50 eggs. It is relatively easy to tell if a chameleon is pregnant as the eggs create lumpy bulges in their sides. Once the female has deposited her eggs, the bulges are no longer there.

When you look at a chameleon, you would not think they are natural diggers. However, flap-necked chameleons are capable of digging a hole 20 to 30 cm deep to lay their eggs. It will take 10-12 months for the baby chameleons to emerge.

Threats to chameleons

Habitat loss is one of the biggest threats to chameleons so more needs to be done to conserve their habitat. “We are lucky to have a country with an amazing plant diversity,’ says Evans.  It is for this reason that KwaZulu-Natal is also known as the ‘Garden Province.’

flap-necked chameleon laying eggs

Photo: Nick Evans

Chameleon species in Southern Africa

There are currently 25 described chameleon species in Southern Africa. One of the most high profile chameleons is the Cape dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion pumilum) that resides in the fynbos around Cape Town.

South Africa is home to two large chameleons, the flap-necked chameleon and the Namaqua chameleon (Chamaeleo namaquensis), found in the western desert regions of Namibia, Angola and South Africa.  There are 17 species of chameleons that call South Africa home.

Attracting chameleons to the garden

flap-necked chameleon laying eggs

Photo: Nick Evans

The more common garden variety is the KwaZulu dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion melanocephalum). While the flap-necked chameleon is relatively common in the grasslands of KwaZulu-Natal, they sometimes occur in gardens around the Greater Durban area.  There are ways to attract these reptiles to your garden.

Planting an indigenous veld garden can entice them to visit. Secondly, avoid using pesticides. Like frogs, chameleons are extremely sensitive to chemicals. These reptiles control insect numbers, but certain bird species and snakes will prey on them.

flap-necked chameleon laying eggs

Photo: Nick Evans

flap-necked chameleon laying eggs

Photo: Nick Evans

Information provided by Nick Evans from KwaZulu-Natal Amphibian and Reptile Conservation

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