The Chameleon in the Axarquía (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) by Juan Pablo González de la Vega

The Chameleon of the Axarquia

Reptile with arched body and very laterally compressed. The extremities are long and thin, the tail is prehensile and, as a rule, somewhat smaller than the rest of the body, an unusually variable background color (it has the ability to vary it at will). Head very hard and pointed on the back. Prominent eyes, very long tongue, capable of being projected at a great distance, while at rest it remains retracted in the lower part of the mouth.

Although the normal maximum sizes are between 190 and 250 mm. of total length, the author has found in nature specimens that reached and even exceeded 300 mm. In all cases in which the tail remained intact, which is very common in the species, it occupies between 44, 62 and 51, 72%, while in newborns occupies between 46.91 and 49.31% .

The head is well differentiated from the body, it is very hard and pointy. The eyes are very prominent, they are housed on both sides of the head and with them they are able to look at different places at once (stereoscopic vision). The tongue is folded in a cavity that has a pocket like the bottom of the mouth and can be projected with great precision and at a dizzying speed at a distance as long as the total length of the individual; with it it catches its prey, thanks to the previous extreme, sticky and sticky. There is no external ear and the nostrils are small.

The background color is exaggeratedly variable and can be changed at will; in such a way, individuals are given green, yellowish, brown, and even bluish or exaggeratedly black. Along with the prevailing color, there always appear a series of ocelli or macules, some of whitish color and others of darker tones. In all the cases, the color variations are a faithful witness of the mood, of environmental factors, and even of the rank that each individual occupies with respect to their congeners; These changes are carried out thanks to cells that have in the skin called chromatophores.

The limbs are long and thin, ending in powerful hands like claws that use as clamps to grab branches and climb. The fingers are opposed three to two according to the direction of the march; that is, the front limbs have three fingers inside, while the hind limbs have only two. Do not detach from the tail in case of danger as in the case of lizards and lizards and if for any reason it were amputated it would not come back. He uses it as if he were a fifth member to move around trees and bushes, being able to hold on just for it; whereas when it is at rest, it often keeps it coiled up.

In males, the posterior prominence of the head (helmets) is more evident, while the tail is longer; while the females are the ones that reach the largest sizes and are much more robust. After fertilization, they present a characteristic design consisting of a yellow speckling on a blue or black background, which is used to warn the males of their condition.

The rutting season extends from July to September, during which time the males become extremely aggressive towards their peers, especially when it comes to courting the females. For the copulation they keep the female immobile thanks to a bloodless bite on the back or belly. For the setting they choose a moist, sheltered and sunny place, usually under or between the roots of shrubs, plants or small trees, under which they dig a sloping hole of up to 510 mm. of depth with the help of its extremities (observations made in the coast of Huelva). Since this task is very painful due to the shape of the extremities, it usually spends the night inside the hole, so that at dawn the setting has taken place and everything has been perfectly disguised.

Obtained and observed in captivity, semi-captivity and in nature (which usually occurs from September 15 to October 15), resulted in a number of eggs ranging between 6 and 24. These are white, gummy, somewhat elliptical and they rarely stick to each other. The measurements range between 16.8 x 10.8 and 18.6 x 11'7 mm; After an incubation period that ranges between 258 and 366 days, young chameleons that measure between 56 and 67 mm in total length hatch.

It is a reptile of totally diurnal and arboreal customs, of slow and measured movements, solitary and very territorial. The rare times it moves on the ground, it does so slowly and with its tail raised. Eminently insectivorous food. It captures all kinds of insects that fit in its mouth, except for those with the hardest carapace. Large specimens can capture young lizards and even newborn chicks of certain birds. He likes to live in the coastal dunes and other dry places near the sea, always climbing brooms, pines, junipers, junipers, eucalyptus and trees in general. In the Iberian Peninsula it is present from sea level to 900 meters of altitude in the Axarquía Malagueña.

Although specimens have been observed in places as diverse as Aracena (Huelva), Cordoba, or around Seville, as a result of the capture in their habitat and subsequent release or evasion of their confinement in the aforementioned places, the chameleon has four populations nuclei in the Iberian Peninsula: Portuguese Algarve, most of the coast of Huelva, the Atlantic coast of Cádiz and the Costa del Sol and Malaga's Axarquía.

Thanks to the colonizing power of the species and the transshipment of specimens due to the catches, today more or less stable populations can be found in certain points of the south of Cádiz, the coast of Granada and in the south and east of Almería.

The main enemies of the chameleon are: the predation of which it is object by certain birds and rodents, the loss of habitats as a result of the implementation of mammoth urbanizations in those areas in which this animal has always been present, and the abuses during the reproduction, since the moment of maximum activity of the species coincides with an increase in traffic on the occasion of the summer season.

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