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Chameleons in Madagascar

Chameleons in Madagascar

Madagascar is famous for its biodiversity. This nature rises through its beauty, its colors and sometimes even by their strangeness, in any case, it amazes and moves. Chameleons are a testimony to the richness of this local Fauna and flora. The variety of existing species, their colors, sizes and shapes make them all completely fascinating.

In Madagascar we find more than half of the 150 species of chameleons existing in the world, and a large part of the species is even endemic to the island. They can be divided into three main chameleon species: the greater Furcifer, known for its horns Calumma and Brookesia, which belongs to the smaller chameleons.

Description of the chameleons of Madagascar

As a scientific name, the chameleon is called "Chamaeleonidae", a species of the dinosaur family, more precisely a descendant of a suborder of reptiles. It is a four-legged tree that feeds exclusively on insects.

The morphology of a chameleon varies by species, in Madagascar ranging in size from 25 millimeters (the smallest chameleons in the world!) to 50 centimeters (including tail) for the largest.

The head

Like a benevolent avatar, the chameleon's head varies according to its size, but especially according to its type. Larger ones, like the Furcifer genus, have a certain flat bump that forms a ridge or helmet on the head. Most of these creatures all have this helmet, but the smaller ones do not.

The eyes of these animals are exorbitant and can rotate (independently between the two eyes) so that they can watch out for their enemies, the crows, or detect small treats such as crickets or mosquitoes, which are very crunchy. In these cases, these inflated eyes allow for better hunting precision. Unfortunately, since some researchers lack a rod (the light-sensitive cells of the retina), it seems that chameleons become almost blind at nightfall.

Diet and insect hunting

Remember that this animal feeds exclusively on insects such as flies and butterflies, but the favorite food of chameleons of the island are grasshoppers and crickets. For this purpose, the chameleon has a rather long tongue, which is stored in the head with the hyoid bone.

Equipped with great muscular strength, the chameleon can push its tongue back and forth at will: It is a real natural harpoon, his little hunting tool. Moreover, he can reach a speed of 20km/h when he takes off! The wall of his tongue is filled with viscous mucus, which serves as a net or, more precisely, as a kind of glue to immobilize his prey. Then it is brought back into the mouth by pulling back its tongue. Bon appetit!

The skin of the chameleon

The skin of the Madagascar chameleons is pigmented and has different layers of skin that allow it to change color depending on the environment or an attitude it wants to convey. Special cells, called chromatophores, in the deep layers of the skin allow it to take on the following colors: red, yellow, white. Chameleons also have yellow and red pigments called melanin in their skin cells.

Recently, Swiss researchers at the University of Geneva conducted experiments on a panther chameleon native to the island. They claim that the elements that control color change in Chamaeleonidae are "nanocrystals." Tiny crystals found in a superficial layer of skin cells called "iridophores."

"These nanocrystals, arranged in multiple layers, respond to the wavelengths of light by reflecting bluish hues," the researchers said. However, many reptiles possess these crystals, but the only one capable of arranging its own crystals at will is the chameleon.

Known for its colorful metamorphosis, the widespread belief that the chameleon changes color to camouflage itself is obviously incomplete. For the chameleons of Madagascar, changing colors would also be a means of communication between them. It is another way for these individuals to express their moods or attitudes such as a desire to mate.

Researchers have so far 200 species of chameleons identified around the world. 150 species are recorded here on the large island of Madagascar, including 59 endemic species.

Categorization of chameleons endemic to Madagascar.

The chameleons of Madagascar live only on the island and are divided into three genera. Namely: Furcifer, Brookesia and Calumma, which have 84 subspecies that inhabit different habitats and regions of the Big Island.

Brookesia chameleons

Brookesia are also Earth Chameleons called, it is an endemic genus of Stub-tailed chameleons which is native only to Madagascar.

This genus inhabits the terrestrial zone in the primary forests of Madagascar and includes about 30 species.

Brookesia Micro for example, a tiny chameleon of 25 millimeters in length, belongs to this genus. It is considered the smallest reptile on earth. Unlike other species, Brookesia chameleons lack a prehensile tail. They are mostly terrestrial chameleons whose tails are not used much, unlike the other genera.

Furcifer chameleons

With 50 cm (including tail) this chameleon genus gathers the largest species of Madagascar. The majority of the genus lives in trees or clearings.

Chameleon Furcifer feeds on insects and small reptiles. Among this species we find the most beautiful specimens, namely: the Oustalet chameleon or Furcifer oustaleti, the Panther chameleon or Furcifer pardalis and the Furcifer minor-Art.

By far the most colorful chameleons on Madagascar, very pronounced pigmentation with abilities to very visible color changes. Medium size with the males being significantly larger than the females.

- Furcifer bifidus Group consists of six species that live in the rainforest

- Furcifer pardalis Group also consists of six species, they are native to the northern part of Madagascar and live in the lowlands.

- Furcifer Verrucosus Group consists of three species and the best known of them is F.Oustaletti which is distributed on the highlands and in the south.

- Furcifer Rhinoceratus Group consists of three species and are medium-sized chameleons.

- Furcifer Lateralis Group consists of two types.

This chameleon genus currently includes about 20 species.

Calumma chameleons

As with Furcicifer chameleons, these reptiles have very colorful coloration with rapid and remarkable color changes.

Males are also larger than females in this genus and they have distinctive structures on their heads.

This group consists of almost 40 species and lives exclusively on shrubs and trees in different biotopes up to almost 2000m altitude.

The chameleons in the Malagasy culture

In Malagasy culture, the chameleon occupies an important place. In some regions it is part of many tales and legends and sometimes even a source of superstition.

Today, chameleons have an integral place in the country's biodiversity and culture. However, the disturbing increase in deforestation and bushfires threatens to

Mythology and dealing with the afterlife

In most ethnic groups of Africa and the Caribbean islands, various myths are associated with the presence of chameleons, which are considered a kind of messenger between man and deities. In the past, chameleons were the carriers of a certain message sent by the highest beings.

As in the myth of the origin of death: The chameleon's task was to deliver the divine message to humans that they should die and then be born again, and that death is only temporary. Thus, in various myths, the chameleon is considered a symbol of eternal life. However, as a victim of their slow gait, faster animals such as the hare, the birds or the lizard were assigned to deliver the opposite of the messages of the deities to the people. But these faster animals arrived first! After their words, the deities affirmed that death is permanent, that resurrection does not exist for people.

The chameleon came later and confirmed that "people die but are born again afterwards". But people no longer believed him and did not accept his message that death is only temporary. In this way, man became mortal.

This myth is quite widespread on the African continent and also exists in Malagasy culture, especially among the Betsimisaraka ethnic group. This species, considered as mediators between man and nature or even between man and supreme beings, spreads a certain "fear" or "superstition" about the Malagasy.

Literature on the subject:

Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar. Vences & Glaw, Cologne 2007, ISBN 978-3-929449-03-7.

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