Jackson's Chameleon Information

behavior and arboreal lifestyle

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Behavior
Temperment
Color
Movements

Arboreal Lifestyle



Temperment

In comparison to other chameleons, Jackson's are calm, placid animals. In the wild individuals live a solitary lifestyle, which is pretty typical for chameleons, regardless of age. This should be taken into consideration when handling your Jackson's. In general any chameleon should not be overly handled, but this can be gauged by the reaction of your individual chameleons.

Aggressive behavior, if any, is usually only evident between males. Male Jackson's are very territorial when it comes to their "perch" or their female and will fight to defend them. The horns on a male Jackson's chameleon are more than just ornamental. However difficult to imagine, a male will use his horns in a ritualized shoving contest with this rival, although it is rare that any injury results (other than the pride of the loser) due to their "slow" nature.

Those that haven't been exposed to humans react to people by retreating whenever someone comes near. They become alert and slowly but steadily move to a more secluded area. In cases of extreme fear Jackson's have been known to drop to the ground where they'll remain motionless.

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Color

Chameleons are known as the masters of camouflage having a highly sophisticated and complex ability to vary their skin pigments or chromatophores in skin cells, thus able to change their color and patterns. This is important being slow-moving creatures so chameleons rely on protective coloration for defense. In cases like this, a chameleon might show bright colors which often times mean bad tasting or poisonous to other animals. If this doesn't work they may shift to their drabbest colors and play dead.

Color changes can be brought on for many different reasons other than defense, like breeding, temperature, lighting conditions, or rival males, but rarely (most likely out of coincidence) change to match their present background. These colors can range from green, yellow, olive, brown, patterns of combined colors, and even black. Lighter colors are usually a sign of being content, with darker colors indicating stress. The most vivid colors I have experienced were from a yellow-crested male after introducing a female (of the same subspecies) into his cage, which produced vibrant colors of lime green, yellow and blue.

Other than a general lightening or darkening of the overall color, color patterns really don't change much. Just as each Jackson's subspecies has a certain range of colors at it's disposal, each individual will retain a somewhat unique color pattern from day to day. These, plus other morphological features like size and curvature of horns, as well as behavior traits are what can help a person to identify individual chameleons.

With general color and color changes out of the way, there's also the topic of color variation. If you haven't already read about the color variation of jacksonii jacksonii formerly referred to as "willegensis", click here. Aside from these, there are other color variances out there. Color differences are all due to genetic variability within a given population, and these variations can even occur amongst siblings from the same clutch. I have heard of many people in Hawaii that have seen blue Jackson's in the wild, and also a certain remote area of Oahu that has been known to produce albino Jackson's (see below). The following pictures are all of jacksonii xantholophus:

A red phase (which you can click for a larger image) that was brought back from Maui.

red female Jackson's (xantholophus)

red female Jackson's (xantholophus)

And also the blue phase. Nothing is known about the first picture. The second and third pictures were taken this year (2001) in Maui. While you can see the irregular hints of blues in the female (second picture), however the male's blues are pretty typical.

blue female Jackson's (xantholophus)
(photo credits unknown)

female Jackson's (xantholophus) with blue coloration

male Jackson's (xantholophus) with blue coloration

Little is known about this female, however this is a pretty rare case. The photo below shows a regularly colored female and an albino (xantholophus). Where this particular female came from as well as how long she lived after capture I do not know.

albino and regularly colored female Jackson's (xantholophus)

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Movements

In addition to color changing as a defense, chameleons are also capable of making their bodies appear more elongated, like a twig or a branch. By laterally flattening their sides (like they do when basking) they can take on the appearance of a leaf on a tree, or try to actually hide behind whatever tree branch they are on. If this doesn't work, they will also open their mouth, hiss, and feign biting by rapidly swinging their heads around with their mouth wide open. But in general, Jackson's have a slow rocking locomotion, which is the way they walk, and also looks as though they are a leaf in the wind.

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Arboreal Lifestyle

Jackson's, like many other chameleons, are arboreal, which in plain English means they live in trees. To make this possible they have adapted very different and specialized features. To name a few, an extendable, muscular tongue that can shoot out (with great accuracy) up to 1 times it's body length in less than of a second; fused, pincer-like feet with opposable toes for grasping branches; a prehensile tail which they will use as an "anchor" for climbing (but cannot be regenerated if broken like the American Chameleon or Anole); and independently moving eyes (shaped like turrets) for the ability to see two things at once with a 360 field of view, which has been compared to a 100mm - 150mm telephoto lens.

Since chameleons are ectothermic, or cold-blooded (the inability to heat the body from within), their morning hours are spent basking, or thermoregulating which is the act of using an external source to either raise or lower body temperature. Chameleons need a heat source (the sun, in the wild) to raise their body temperature (or move to a cooler area to lower it). They will position theirs bodies in such a way as to expose either the left or right side to direct sunrays, including their tails which can be either coiled or extended along the branch. They tilt their bodies either horizontally or vertically on branches for maximum lateral exposure.

In the wild Jackson's will remain within the same tree or shrub during daytime, nighttime, and even during harsh weather. They'll shift to favorable locations within the plant as needed for shelter, foraging, rest, or thermoregulation. Since Jackson's rarely change to a new plant, all of their environmental needs must be met within their resident plant. However in the wild they are occasionally found on the ground, usually on rainy nights, but other factors may be for mating purposes, natural dispersal, or the hunt for food.




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Behavior
Temperment
Color
Movements
Arboreal Lifestyle
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Copyright 2000, Steven J. O'Meara
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