By Jean-Jacques Segalen (jjacques) February 14, 2013
You might think from reading the title that I live in Africa and have panthers in my garden. I am sorry to disappoint you but I live on Reunion Island (pretty close to Africa!) and the panther is actually a chameleon, so let me introduce you to this intriguing creature.
Chameleo pardalis is synonymous to Furcifer pardalis which refers to a reptilian from the Chamaeleonidae family originating in Madagascar (which is located just between Reunion Island and the southeastern coast of Africa). ‘Pardalis’ in Latin means ‘leopard’ or ‘panther’ because of the markings on those animals so you can come in my garden anytime and fear not--you will not be eaten alive! The chameleon family (divided itself in two sub-families, Brookesinae and Chamaeleoninae) numbers about 200 different species which are found mostly in Africa and surrounding islands, one in Southern Europe, two in the Arabic peninsula and one in Asia (India and Pakistan). Note that two-thirds of all the species are found in Madagascar which has a very high endemism rate. The one found in Hawaii and Southern California (Chameleojacksonii xantholopus, known as ‘yellow-crested Jackson’s chameleon) was accidentally introduces there from Africa and has now acclimatized. They are closely related to lizards but do have specific features which make them easily recognized: the eyes can move independently one from the other, the tongue can be thrown at some distance to catch preys, fingers are in two opposite clusters and they have the famous unique ability to change color. The tail is usually quite long (half to a third of the total animal length) and can coil up so as to make like an extra hand for climbing (this is true for arboreal species, dwarf ones have more terrestrial habits hence shorter and less-useful tail). The fingers are armed with plier-like claws, handy for grabbing branches and twigs. The eyes are protruding and like mounted on ball bearings, they move independently so the left one can be checking for food while the right one is aiming at you without any movements of the head; it's quite strange indeed and certainly require a powerfsul brain to process such data! The tongue is a true hunting device neatly stashed on the basihyal bone and is made of various muscles which once stretched out can be as long as the body, the end is covered with mucous so as to act as fly-paper and bring back any adventurous insect luring too close, only 1/25th of a second is needed to perform the catch. No need to add that those animals feed exclusively on insects but we may say that they themselves are food for snakes, carnivorous mammals and prey birds.
Detail of the coiled tail
Mature female on a Canna plant
Male frowning under an heavy rain
Female on a Bunchosia tree
Males and females are quite different; a common feature within animals, so Mister Chameleon will be larger and bigger than Misd C. and carry brighter colors. Females will usually be brown to grey but also orange to pink. Males do have a large choice of suits depending on where they are found; on Reunion Island they wear mostly various shades of green with red markings but in Nosy Be (a tiny island off Northern coast of Madagascar) they are blue to turquoise while inland they can be red with white strips, very elegant animals indeed! Let us note here that the ‘ninja’ chameleon able to mimic any color it sets on is pure legend…they will change color usually when sexually aroused or angry, afraid or any other strong inner feeling but will not produce stars and stripes if set on the National Banner…Now the natural color acts as a pretty effective camouflage and one may very well walk by a large specimen without noticing it. Males and females will meet at about one year old and the female will dig a hole in the ground where eggs will be laid and hatch after some eight months. The babies are black and fully equipped with the rotary eyes, prehensile tail and tricky tongue, if they survive the various enemies they will live three to ten years depending on the species. Note that all chameleon species are protected so sales are controlled and you should not buy one if the vendor does not provide the necessary paper work to prove it was bred in captivity and not captured in the wild.
Young female digging a nest
Recently born clutched on a twig
Furcifer pardalis, called on Reunion ‘endormi’ which means ‘asleep’ as it can be very still although when in a hurry it will be surprisingly fast, was introduced from nearby Madagascar (which is about 700km away) around year 1830 by sailors which had them within boats as companion animals. As the climate and vegetation are quite similar in both places this animal has propagated and is nowadays a common sight especially in the South where I live. As my garden is bordered by a gully and rather well furnished in trees and insects I can frequently spot those funny guys heating in the sun, hunting for food or having a fight to impress a possible mate. They are clever enough to stay away from the dogs and have fierce enough teeth to keep the cat at bay, so life is relax for them.
A teenager dozing in the sun...
Colorful male looking for adventure
I hope you enjoyed this unusual encounter and will some day have the chance to face it for real, a quite fascinating experience. All pictures in this article were taken in my own garden.
Very good pictures of different chameleons; http://www.dinosoria.com/cameleon.htm and http://www.dinosoria.com/cameleon-panthere.html for Furcifer pardalis.
About Jean-Jacques Segalen
I am a Parisian born professional horticulturist specialized in tropical seeds producing, living on Reunion island (just between Mauritius and Madagascar) since 20 years . I spend a lot of time gathering seeds in the wild, the ones I do not grow that is. Also a dedicated Tai-Chi practitioner and fully certified arborist-tree surgeon
Just released my first book on tropical plants and fruits, check it at http://www.barbadine.com/pages/livrejjGB.html