Jackson’s Chameleon: The Three Horned Chameleon
When I travel to Africa and meet my guides for the first time, one of the first questions they ask is, “What are you hoping to see?” I always enjoy the startled expression that briefly lights up thier face when I say,”a chameleon.” I love chameleons and photographing them is very high on my wish list when I go on safari. I have had some very lucky encounters with South Africa’s flapneck chameleon-the lizard that first seduced me and ignited this love affair. This past November in Kenya I met his formidable cousin the Jackson’s chameleon and I fell hard. I realized very quickly I was a loose and easy woman when it came to loving little green reptiles.
Trioceros jacksonii, the three horned chameleon, gets it’s name from trioceros, a Greek derivative from the combined terms tri which means three, and keras which means horns. These little lions are known for their fierce defensive displays where they can be seen hissing and lunging at their opponent, as well as doing battle with their unique and formidable horns. These unique looking lizards with their little mitten-like hands have wonderous eyes shaped like a dotted turret with a pupil. The male’s have three horns protruding from thier crest and their long and speedy tongues, extending 1.5 times their body length, can fully extend in .07 seconds.
Jackson’s chameleon Socializing
Jackson’s are solitary lizards and outside of their mating season will stick to themselves intimidating each other if territories are compromised. But when the days get hotter and longer and it is time to find a mate, males will begin a series of displays to initiate courtship with a lady-Jackson’s. As they sway and dance, lifting their spiny backs higher, they might stretch up their neck and open their mouth wide, displaying their powerful jaws hoping to convince her of their hunting prowess. They will also rapidly change colour creating a vibrant display meant to win her heart. And if a female happens to have eyes for two males, it will come down to a joust with horns to determine who will move on to the next round.
The native home of this intriguing reptile is Mount Kenya, with it’s varied vegetation and high insect population. At some point, humans transported Jackson’s to Hawaii, where they have now made a home, thriving amongst the rich vegetation and plentiful insect population. Sadly, chameleons of all varietals are a very popular exotic pet and far too many of these creatures are now captured in the wild and then shipped around the world for private ownership.
A male Jackson’s taking a leap from branch to leaf. (For larger images click here.)
They certainly charm the camera, but are a challenge to capture. First, you have to find them and they are very well camoflauged. In the dark shadows of foliage, the small horns are long enough to throw off your depth of field! Trying to steady yourself as you reach in between branches with terrible light and relying on very low f-stops to compensate for slow speeds, they are a difficult to capture “end-to-end”–but I certainly never tire of trying! These photos of both a female and male Jackson’s were taken in Nairobi National Park, where they are not endemic, but where they have been living freely after being rescued and released in a wild but managed area that provides what they need. I feel blessed to have met them both.
Why not check out Flapnecked Chameleons: Emerald Wonders.
If you like brightly coloured creatures, check out my post Photographing the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog.
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