These 11, very young flap-necked chameleons are a sample of the 44 that were “rescued” in mid-January from a site on Quinine Close.

When a site on our Estate is due to be handed over for building to begin, the building control department notifies Environmental Manager Ayanda Duma, who then does a “chameleon sweep” of the site with members of the wildlife working group and environmental committee.

Chameleon sweeps are always done at night, when it is relatively easy to spot chameleons as they sleep: adults on trees and bushes and very young at the tops of grass stacks for safety.

Our recent crop of lucky volunteers found the 44 youngsters, each of which was then immediately relocated to a nearby grassland. Each rescued individual was carefully placed on a grass stalk and, once near the top, the torch was switched off. Within seconds the youngsters were fast asleep, ready to wake at earliest light and proceed to go hunting in the grassland.


The 44 appeared to come from two batches of eggs as there were size differences. The eggs would have been laid between February and April last year in a hole dug into sand by the adult female chameleon. Up to 50 eggs may be laid by a mature female chameleon, who would have mated in Spring or early Summer last year. The gender of the babies would be determined by the temperature of incubation.  

There is a high attrition rate of young chameleons who fall prey to birds, snakes and even large spiders. Feral and domestic cats are a huge threat to both young and adult chameleons and have been responsible for many local extinctions of chameleons in residential areas.

Flap necked chameleons are our most common chameleon on Simbithi; they can extend a flap from their bottom jaw that is streaked with bright orange. People seem to either love, or fear, these amazing yet harmless creatures. Amazing in that their eyes swivel in all directions independently of each other, their tongues, which are as long as their bodies, can fully extend at a speed of 3/100’s of a second to snatch a luckless insect on which they live. Their ability to manipulate the specialised cells, chromataphores, that lie beneath their transparent skin to dramatically change is legendary.

Colour changes can indicate stress, are a means of defence and are used to signal other chameleons.  A chameleon that is going very dark, almost black, is feeling highly threatened and may bite. The bite, though, is harmless…unless you are a grasshopper. These fascinating creatures, reminiscent of dinosaurs, certainly deserve our protection on Simbithi.

Article supplied by: Margi Lilienfeld