Veiled Chameleon (above) found in Florida. Photograph by Nick Scobel.
Chameleons were first detected in Florida in 2002. Chameleons are arboreal (tree swelling) lizards which are native to Africa, Madagascar, southern Europe, and southeast Asia. They have prehensile tails which they use to hold onto tree branches, and cone-shapped eyes that can swivel in different directions allowing them to look two ways at once. There have been several species of Chameleon’s found loose in Florida including the Senegal Chameleon, White-lined Chameleon, Oustalet’s Chameleon, Panther Chameleon, Jackson’s Chameleon, and Meller’s Chameleon. While many have been seen, only two species are known to have isolated populations in Florida – the Oustalet’s and Veiled Chameleons.
Oustalet’s Chameleons are Madagascar natives and are one of the largest species of chameleons in the world. Male individuals can grow to be over 24 inches long, and females stay quite a bit smaller.
A very detailed fact sheet on the Oustalet’s Chameleon’s is provided by the Maryland Zoo and can be found here: http://www.marylandzoo.org/assets/Oustalets-Chamelon-Fact-Sheet-2014.pdf
Veiled Chameleon’s are native to the Arabian Peninsula. This very pretty species have large domes on their heads, and can reac 12-24 inches in length. Hatchlings are pastel green, but as they grow these animals become a beautiful array of yellow, blue, orange, and black with white mottling seen in females.
More information on these animals can be found here: http://www.animalspot.net/veiled-chameleon.html
Oustalet's Chameleon found in Florida. Photographed by Christopher Gillette.
While Chameleon’s are still nonnative to Florida’s ecosystems, their threat to native animals has not thoroughly been explored yet. They are known to eat insects, small frogs, lizards, and small birds, which indicates they are competing with native lizards for food and a potential threat to smaller birds. Studies so far have shown the Oustalet’s Chameleons to eat agricultural pests and nonnative animals, however that could change depending on the location of the population. In Hawaii, the Veiled chameleon is a threat to native birds, insects, and plants – which leaves room for concern for the Florida ecosystem.
An issue associated with the removal of these animals from Florida’s wild is that people tend to move them to different locations (causing spread to new areas). People also are responsible for the introduction of more species, which makes eradication of these animals in the wild a constant effort. Right now Chameleons have been found in Florida City, Fort Meyers, and other species have been found in Lee, Collier, Miami-Dade, and Broward counties.
Although Chameleons have not made a huge hit to the ecosystem in Florida yet, they easily could be the next "Burmese Python" and wipe out prey species for other natives, and in doing so drive the native animals to dwindling numbers. These nonnative animals do not belong here- and even without a proven impact, in 20 or 30 years they may be the next "Florida Invader". It is a very sad thought that humans are causing the decline in native animals here in Florida - as a pet owner, please remember to not release your pets! Re-home them, donate them, or bring them back to pet store facilities where they were purchased. Please be a responsible pet owner and don't let them loose!
About the Author:
Jenna is a Wildlife Ecology and Conservation student at the University of Florida. Her primary work is research, control, and removal of nonnative and invasive animals found throughout south Florida.
About the blog
Ferrets and Friends, LLC has four writers bringing you information on a variety of topics from pets to wildlife, education to conservation, and from new developments in our business to information about our industry. Learn something new each week!