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Saturday, 5th December 2020

The Bad Press of the Chameleon

By Lisa Bass, Tsiraiky Rossizela, Tsina Endor & Juveliasy

Bright orange and blue furcifer verrucosisWhen we think of chameleons we think of their amazing ability to change colour, often from one fantastic shade of green, to one of orange, or red or even blue! The researchers love them, and if we get one in the garden at SEED the staff go outside for a look. But, whilst the international staff run outside, national staff tend to stay inside and avoid going to have a look. Why is that? Well, for one thing, there is not one positive myth or story about the poor old chameleon in Madagascar.  They get such a poor press, that we thought as part of our Team Chameleon challenge, you deserved to know the myths and the truth about our Christmas Appeal underdog.

Why do chameleons walk so slowly?

DSC_4589.jpgChameleons must be one of the slowest animals on earth, always moving their legs backwards and forwards before finally taking a step. Why is this? Tsiraiky, SEEDs Conservation researchers tells the story. “Once upon a time the chameleon was actually one of the fastest animals on the earth. One day, God organised a meeting of all of the animals, but the chameleon rushed off before the meeting was finished and in his haste he stepped on God's son. When the meeting was over, God's son told God that it had stepped on him in his rush to leave the meeting, and God put a curse on the chameleon that from that day, rather than be the fastest animal, he would forever be the slowest animal. And that is why the Chameleon walks so slowly, because he is saying ‘Please, please Son of God’ as a way of always saying sorry for what he did and being very gentle so that he doesn’t make the same mistake again”.

Can a leopard change its spots?

No, but a chameleon can change its skin, and for this reason people consider chameleons totally untrustworthy.  They are considered to be like someone who doesn’t know their own mind, but instead always just changes to what others around them think rather than be truthful and say what they think. This is why you can never trust what a chameleon says.

Do chameleons always bring bad luck?

Unfortunately yes, and bad luck predictions are the most widespread of chameleon beliefs. Juve, our Beekeeping Co-ordinator explains, “If you are sitting under a tree and a chameleon poos on you, it is very bad luck as it foretells a death in the family or that of a close friend”. So, the lesson is to avoid being pooed on by a chameleon!

Furcifer lateralis

You also have to be very careful when giving someone a present that has a chameleon on it – very difficult in Madagascar when there are so many carvings and paintings of beautiful chameleons. Tsina, SEEDs Deputy Director explains, “If you are celebrating something and someone gives you a present that has chameleon on it, it means that whatever you are celebrating will be short lived. So, if someone gives you a drawing of one for your new house or promotion at work, you will be moving again soon, or the job won’t work out”. Given this, if someone gives you a present with a chameleon on, it probably means that they don’t like you very much!    

What to do if you see a chameleon

Well, children often are told that chameleons shoot people with their tongue if they get in their way, so always let the chameleon pass by – or better still, just do what most people do and run away!