Chameleon research in Steenbok

Video of a Chameleon being returned to its original spot the following day.

Recently we were approached by the South African National Biodiversity Institute for permission to conduct research in the Reserve on the Knysna Dwarf Chameleon.  The research includes a series of tests on South Africa’s seventeen species of dwarf chameleons.  Prof. Anthony Herrel, a Research Director based at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, explained that the tests are to find out whether urban chameleons have adapted physically to cope with the urban habitats (gardens, golf courses, parks, etc) they now face.  The scientists undertaking the research need to measure things that are going to make a difference in the chameleons’ everyday lives!

Prof. Krystal Tolley, Principal Scientist at the South African National Biodiversity Institute, explained that chameleons are a great example of adaptive radiation – a process whereby organisms diversify rapidly from an ancestral species into a multitude of new forms, usually because of a change in the environment. ‘Tens of millions of years ago, South Africa had a lot more forest’ she said, ‘But as the trees gave way to fynbos or grassland, chameleons had to choose to adapt to the new conditions or go extinct’.

The night time research was undertaken by a team marking the area where the chameleons were found in Steenbok, then recording the chameleons’ temperatures, sizes and sex before taking them away for more overnight testing.  The chameleons were then released back into their original natural habitat the following day.

Daniel Burman, who is a keen amateur herpetologist, joined the group to help find these elusive creatures. He also enjoyed the opportunity to ask Prof. Krystal Tolley about the research process.
Prof. Anthony Herrel conducting a chameleon night search in Steenbok with Prof. Krystal Tolley, Dr Melissa Petford and JJ Forgus from SANBI (Kirstenbosch).


Video of a Chameleon being returned to its original spot the following day.