The Namaqua Chameleon is a little known species of chameleon. It is an extraordinary animal living in an equally extraordinary environment.
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Found in South Africa and parts of Angola and Namibia, the Namaqua chameleon is found specifically in an area called Namaqualand. It is unique, as a chameleon, due to its habitat, feet, colour changing ability and speed.
‘Average’ chameleons live in forested areas and stretch as far north as southern Europe, their feet comprise of five toes which are fuses into groups of three and two, which allow them to grip branches. The Namaqua chameleon can splay these ‘toes’ to allow it to run over flat ground.
Chameleons use specialised cells, called chromatophores, to change colour. Different chameleons can change different colours, and they use this skill in different ways. For example; threat displays, mating displays and camouflage, however the Namaqua chameleon uses this evolutionary ace to control its body temperature. It can change some of its skin to white to deflect the sun and other parts a dark brown to absorb the sun. This helps to keep cool during harsh days in an arid environment and keep warm during cold nights.
Most chameleons are slow movers, they play waiting games with their prey, but food is scarce in Namaqualand and when available fast moving. The Namaqua chameleon feeds mostly on beetles. In order to catch these it can run at unusually high speeds for a chameleon.
Tourism to Namaqualand is popular due to the yearly flowering of millions of desert shrubs and various species of daisies. During this time large numbers of visitors can have a great effect on the local environment; although strict rules are kept in tourist areas some people consider the Namaqua chameleon a suitable pet. Due to its fairly inaccessible environment the Namaqua chameleon is not an endangered species, but with extreme tourism taking off this could soon change.
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