Chameleon: Colour-changing lizard

By Anis Shakur
Wednesday – July 29, 2020
NEW YORK (United States): With seventy to eighty-five million years of evolution and some of the most grotesque physical characteristics, the chameleon, or ‘girgit’ in Urdu, is doubtlessly the most intriguing, interesting lizard in the animal world.

Like most of its relatives, it dwells exclusively on trees and thickets, where it is immaculately adopted to survive. From its tongue to its tail, it is built to go out on a climb. It can alter its skin colour in a trice.

These variations rely primarily on the movement of ‘melanin’ which is a pigment located in special skin cells termed as ‘melanophores.’ In utter nigritude, this lizard is exposed almost white.

However, its skin darkens considerably when a light shine over it. A chameleon acts just as outlandishly as it looks. Unlike many other reptiles it does not thrive in groups.

Each male chameleon has his own well-marked territory that he must defend. The land itself is the apple of discord between them. Although the squabbles rarely become lethal, the combatants are armed with modified appendages, puffing up and swelling their bodies by filling the lung sacs with air.

Casually they will bite each other. Still the foe is seldom wounded in such battles.

Unusual tongue: The most flabbergasting feature is its tongue. A marvel in engineering, it is ideally suited to capture insects. In a fraction of a second, the lizard can unfurl it to the length of its body and it can reach a foot in length! It shoots out in one-twenty-fifth of a second. The tongue is coated with sticky mucous to catch the victim.

Twisted tail: The extraordinary, prehensile and supple tail may be coiled around a branch of tree like a fifth leg to acquire a tenacious grip. Besides, the tail also assists in the treetops.

It can be revolved up and around itself or any slender twig. The skin on the bottom of the tail is scaly which aids the slithering creature maintain control. While the topside is thin and extendable for holding on.

Its feet are also adapted for living on the trees. Further, the five toes are merged into two groups, which confront each other like human thumb and fingers.

The consequent pincer grip, plus vigorous nails at the end of each toe, enable chameleon to scale both branches and rough trunks.

Enigmatic eyes: Its enormous, bulging eyes are the most conspicuous portions of its head. They are shielded and covered by pliant, scaly eyelids and are so large that there is only one orifice in the central part of the skull.

Each eye can move independently of the other. Hence, he can simultaneously look in two absolutely opposite directions.

The hunt: A hapless vermin comes face to tongue within easy reach. After edging close, the chameleon lunges forward, anchoring its tail and hind feet to a twig. Now almost at its prey, it launches its long tongue to catch the victim.

Courtship: In early August, the male chameleon seldom stirs from the soil they have won. Then they become extremely mobile and attempt to mate with any female they encounter.

Two months after mating, the female chameleon descends to the ground to bury nine to thirty eggs, which incubate for 250 days. The process is exhausting and mortality among females is high.

Afterwards, the reptile spends the coldest period of the year in hibernation, waiting for favourable prospects before initiating the cycle again. The life goes on.

Next in TDR’s Wildlife, “Cheetah”

Info: Prominent writer, Anis Shakur, is an essential employee in the division of animal resources, SUNY Downstate, and the animal research, VA Brooklyn.