Chameleon Diary

08 October 2002

These observations refer to the Cape Dwarf Chameleon (bradypodion pumilum).

So far today I have observed four of the (at least) 10 chameleons in the garden. Please note that when I say "the garden" in the context of the chameleons, I am referring to our own garden as well as our next door neighbours' garden since some of them move between the two. Sometimes they're in ours, sometimes on the border of our garden and the garden of No 4 (i.e. on the green wire fence that separates the two gardens and which is part of their climbing world), and sometimes inside No 4's garden, but can often still be seen from within our garden.

The ones I have seen today are two babies as well as two adults that we can identify individually, one presumed to be a male and the other a female. We know of two adult males (or what we have presumed to be males by their behaviour and other evidence seen on the Web) - one has a more elaborate pattern on his sides and at times seems older (a greyish look to him). I have never seen them together and considering their territorial nature this may be further evidence that they are males. However I have seen them in the same area, at separate times. Today I have seen the more elaborately patterned male. Oh the males also seem to have bigger heads than the females with higher peaks at the back (these are called casques and defined as "the upward projecting cap or helmet at the back of a chameleon's head" - see http://chamownersweb.tripod.com/Function_Pages/glossary_of_terms.htm for further terms) and their colouring is different. Well of course they all change colours and shades, within limits, but the males appear to have significant portions of blue/turquoise as well as their green and orange/pink when they are in their normal state and the ones we think are females are really mainly green and orange although I'm not saying there is no blue at all. We have seen one of the females go black and pink (although with the green still visible) when an unwanted male is close by. In fact today one of those females (recently grown up, we think since we saw her finish off a moult the other day and she doesn't seem as big as the other female we know well) was reacting to a nearby male in that way (24 Oct update: you'll see below that we feel differently about her age now). She also opens her mouth and hisses at him and shakes her body and twice we've seen her bite him if he doesn't go away. We think she is possibly already pregnant and has no interest in him at all. Once the other male got similar treatment although he did not get enough on her nerves to get bitten. This male also has a strange head movement sometimes when he comes close to her. It may be a mating ritual - we suspect that is what it is. We don't think he is being territorial since he doesn't engage in any biting and does not appear bothered by her presence, another reason we think it is a male. Apparently females do not bother each other although we have not seen any adult females in the same areas - they seem to keep to their areas. This may seem to be evidence that those are then the males, but actually I think the males are roamers, looking around for all the females. The more colourful male has been seen on both sides of the garden (which means that he crosses the lawn), in the areas where the two older females are. There is a young (adult or nearly adult) female at the left back of the garden that seems to always be alone and we may have seen her when she was even younger during a moult. We have found another bigger one (male I think - clear evidence of blue) back there, but not in a long time. (24 October update: I have seen him there twice again now)

The babies have not developed to their full colour potential as yet and so we can't seem to decide on gender although a few are bigger and I think look more in the male shape. The hemipenal bulge way of determining gender doesn't seem to work (see http://chamownersweb.tripod.com/Function_Pages/glossary_of_terms.htm) but perhaps if someone were to show us how this works, it would. The babies (five) were first spotted in the week of 16 Sept. I think that day we saw two adults and four babies in one bush and this particular bush still seems to be the base for four of the babies (24 October update - now it is rare to see more than two chameleons in that bush - they have scattered or moved to better "hunting grounds") and it was, I think, the next day when I saw five babies and that is the maximum we have ever seen on one day. I still think there is at least one baby on the other side of the garden since that is where I found a small brown one at the beginning of Sept (see my pic of it) and then days/weeks later a green one (possibly the same one). And there is no evidence that these five ever cross the lawn. So far I only have evidence that one of the male chameleons crosses the lawn (24 October update - both of them have been seen on either side, but there is a way to get to the other side at the back of the garden rather than walking over the lawn - I have seen at least one of them walk over the lawn, at the time when I wouldn't have known the difference between the two - generally these chameleons stay off the ground from what I have seen though).

Other evidence that ones we think of as females are indeed females is that the two adult ones (the one at the left back of garden may not yet be adult) are quite fat at the moment and we suspect pregnant. The males seem slim all the time. Apparently Cape Dwarf Chameleons (which these apparently are) give birth to live babies (or at least they pop out in a membrane and then break out of the membrane pretty much immediately) three or four times a year with a gestation period of three-four months. This implies they can mate as soon as they have given birth.

24 October 2002

A couple of days ago I saw all five baby chameleons for the first time in quite a while (possibly since 29 September, but it is difficult to always know whether you are seeing the same ones or not). They do have differences, but it is difficult to keep track of which one is which because of their colour-changing and similar and not-yet-clearly-defined patterns. Also they are growing up so they are still changing and a few of them have now developed red or orange spots. One of them started this change quite a few days ago and at least two (the smallest two) have not reached this stage yet. Oddly, along with this red/orange spot change seems to come the ability to change dark brown (apart from the red spots), a colour I do not see the adults displaying. I have also seen one of the babies display unhappiness with another of the babies walking too close to it. It appeared to want to confront it, but the wind was blowing the bush about so much that it didn't get a chance especially since the other one was also on the move at the time. I don't mean to call them babies any more. Although they are still quite small (some tinier than others) they are definitely at least older children now.

I have seen four of the adults recently, but the younger "female" seems to be keeping a low profile although I twice saw one of the males in the area she normally hangs out in if that means anything. For a while I was a little puzzled as to which one could be the mother of the five kids because the female that we first saw in the vicinity of the young ones and that has since also been in their vicinity, recently moulted, and Michael and I didn't think that they would moult after they were full-size. But the other day I saw the adult female that has been adult-size ever since we'd first seen her, moulting so I guess they all moult, young and old, although perhaps the young ones more often as part of growing up.

I will try to continue to add further observations as they occur and I am bound to have forgotten certain things like how we sometimes see the young ones close their eyes for long moments, while seemingly soaking up the sun. I suspect they all do at night, but I haven't tried to observe them in the dark. All I know is they seem to look smaller (lack of heat perhaps) at night and appear to settle down to sleep in one spot for the night.

28 October 2002

I'm chuffed because I saw all five of the juvenile chameleons today (I think that's the correct term for them). Of course I don't have any proof that there are only five of them on the right hand side of the garden, but I don't have any reason to believe otherwise especially since they do all look different even if I can't always keep track. Anyway I haven't seen any inconsistencies that would make me think that I'm not seeing the same five all the time. I still think there may be another one on the other side of the garden, but it would be a lot more difficult to find it there since the bushes and trees are bigger.

I should name all of them, I think, instead of saying: "the male with one stripe" for example. It doesn't mean you'll know which ones I am referring to especially since I am not taking pics of them at this point, but for me, it would probably be a good idea. Okay these are their names (all plant/flower names):

Camellia (adult female)

Hydrangea (adult female)

Agapanthus (adult female)

Mulberry (adult male)

Eucalyptus (adult male)

Lavender (juvenile - suspected to be female)

Eggplant (juvenile - suspected to be female)

Oreganum (juvenile - suspected to be female)

Narcissus (juvenile - suspected to be male)

Sparaxis (juvenile - suspected to be male)

Funny, how I've never mentioned before that we have seen them eat bugs plenty of times. We've even picked some of them up and taken them to within range of tasty morsels. Usually they have then eaten without being concerned about being carried by human hand. One time one of the juveniles spat out the fly it had just caught, for some reason. And there are some insects they seem not to be interested in. The other day I saw one of the juveniles eat a white worm/caterpillar thing. I've even seen Camellia eat a butterfly. I've also seen her eat a black and red ladybird. So they eat some pretty insects too (unfortunately). Michael and Wendy have caught some slow-flying bugs out of the air and offered their still-moving bodies to the chameleons and they've often eaten them. I have seen Eucalyptus attempt four times to catch the same insect that was clinging to a fern. I couldn't see the insect properly and I thought it must be dead if Eucalyptus was going for it over and over and it wasn't moving, but as far as I know they are not interested in already-dead food. In the end he managed to dislodge said insect and eat it. They of course have lovely yellow sticky tongues, apparently as long as their bodies although they often don't need to stretch them out that long. Depending on the size of the prey, they finish swallowing in a matter of seconds, but I have seen the babies take up to a number of minutes to finish something big. I have rarely seen them miss their prey, but it certainly has happened.

Earlier I saw a bug walking on the back of Sparaxis and I was interested to see what he would do about it. It was funny, he squirmed slightly and then lifted his right back leg and scratched the bug off himself. Impressive.

I haven't seen any of the adults today.

29 October 2002

I saw Mulberry and Eucalyptus, the two adult males, in the garden this morning. It was the first time I have seen them in the same section of garden. They were about two metres apart so I can't say they were together, but I got the impression they were aware of each other. Mulberry was looking all greyish, as he sometimes does, that whole grandfather look. He was still green and blue and pink and white etc, but not bright. I was wondering if he was on his deathbed, he was looking so frail and inactive, more lying on a leaf, than supporting himself. But then he started walking in the direction of Eucalyptus who started going brown in the face where he was previously looking green. Eucalyptus then turned around and started walking in the other direction. I say this as if it was all very fast, and maybe it was, in chameleon-world. I lost sight of Eucalyptus then and I didn't see much point in trying to hang around for much longer. I would have if it looked like they were going to come face to face, but it looked as if Mulberry was satisfied that he had chased Eucalyptus off. I guess he's still the boss of the garden.

I haven't seen any of the others as yet. (11.14 a.m.)

I've just seen and picked up Lavender. She's my favourite - the tiniest juvenile, and really cute. I've also seen Camellia (adult female), fat as usual. I don't know what's happened to Mulberry and Eucalyptus, but that's no surprise with chameleons, one minute they're there and the next you can't find them. (12.25 p.m.)

I've just seen Lavender and Mulberry again. Mulberry is still looking greyish and he's now in a section of the garden I've never seen any of the chameleons before. But I suspect that he and Eucalyptus often get from one side of the garden to the other by means of that back area. He closed his eyes a couple of times I was watching him. And then I also saw Oreganum. I feel so much better about having named them now. It doesn't mean I will always be able to tell them all apart, but so far so good. (1.35 p.m.)

Spotted Lavender in the weeds now (we only have those weeds there because it's one of the favourite chameleon spots). And then I looked again after looking aay for a few seconds and I thought "wow drastic colour change, Lav", from brown to green so quickly, but then I thought "Hang on, that's Eggplant!", but I wasn't convinced that I would have mistaken her for Lavender so I kept looking around and eventually I spotted Lavender close by. Eggplant caught a small insect in the ten minutes I was watching them. (3.36 p.m.)

31 October 2002

Saw Mulberry and Lavender this afternoon. Yesterday saw Mulberry, Eucalyptus, Sparaxis, Oreganum and Narcissus. Narcissus (the suspected juvenile male) is getting quite big now, Lavender is rather tiny in comparison. And in fact Narcissus was in full moult yesterday afternoon and when I picked him up he thrashed his tail about, presumably in an attempt to rid himself of the twirly bit of white moulty skin on his tail as opposed to whipping me. So we pulled it off him - was it Michael or me who did it? I think it was me, I remember now. And then he was rubbing his head on my hand in order to remove the old white skin on his head. Really cute actually. It probably only loosened it a bit and when Lauren came out to see him, she pulled it off him. Then I put him back down. Anyway I have to finish my newsletter today so I can't spend lots of time looking for more of them today. Not that I ever spend that much time looking - I am not as patient as all that.

5 November 2002

Hmm, how time flies. Seen Sparaxis, Lavender and Camellia today. More convinced than ever that Sparaxis is a male. Yesterday I saw he was showing some blue in his colouring and he looked even nicer today. Growing up fast. Lavender is still the smallest and probably always will be. She's showing some red-orange spots as well now so all of the babies have reached that stage. Yesterday I was quite pleased that I found seven of the them: those just mentioned as well as Eggplant, Oreganum, Mulberry and Eucalyptus. I haven't seen Agapanthus since a while before I named them! I must say Camellia has been looking a little odd lately which made me wonder if it was instead a fully grown-up Agapanthus, but so far, since it's clearly the area Camellia is known to habitate, I'm satisfied to say it is Cam. We saw Hydrangea (the stranger, I was calling her, since we hadn't seen her in a while) a couple of days in a row recently. I always get nervous on Mondays because the gardener for our complex is around and I am scared he'll inadvertently harm/kill one or more of them. But lets not go there right now, especially since other harm could come to them anyway. When Michael and I go on our trip late next week, for three weeks, I'll come back and likely not be able to tell them apart! It's already difficult in some instances. And I can't promise I have been 100% accurate on all accounts! Oh yeah, have noticed that Eucalyptus and Mulberry (adult males) really seem to share the same territories (ie. our garden), but stay out of each other's way, or if I go by what I saw the other day, Euca stays out of Mul's way.

6 November 2002

Wow, let's make that officially 11 chameleons even though I haven't seen Agapanthus in absolute ages. I found a young (presumed) male chameleon today. He's bigger than the other babies and I know it's not one of them, but I suspect he is the one in the photos. I always felt that the one in the baby pic was not one of the five since none of them have crossed to the other side of the garden as far as I know. And it would make sense that he is older than those ones (even if by only a week/weeks). Michael has called him Fred and even though I know this is not a plant name, I like it so lets make him Fred the Freesia. I was looking for Agapanthus when I noticed him. Am assuming that Camellia is his mother and that he is an only child. I'll be really confused when I get back from my trip! Yesterday saw 8 of them - the only missing were Narcissus and of course Agapanthus (and technically, Fred). See 28 October's write-up where I refer to "the missing baby" (except not in those words).

Also have seen Eucalyptus, Hydrangea, Lavender and I think it was Eggplant (possibly Oreganum) earlier.

If you have any questions or comments please email me at melody@adt.org.za.