Some new stuff coming soon, including some more equipment reviews, but this for now: a few pictures and narrative on the invasive Oustalet’s Chameleons that are established in Dade County, FL.
The second species “officially” recognized (published) in the family Chameleonidae in Florida, though as many as half a dozen or more species of Chameleon are likely present/established in Florida.
Chameleons are good candidates for invasive species in Florida, because many species are hardy and can thrive here, and they are common and valuable in the pet trade. This has lead to a number of collectors setting up “ranches” or “Cash crops” of them in various areas, only to return in later years and collect free, healthy offspring of the original seeds.
Although it is easy to point the finger at these collectors, it’s also advisable to remember that most of these populations were likely started before there was general public knowledge of the harm that invasive species can cause to an ecosystem. That said, the issues with Chameleons in Florida are many: especially given that many of the populations are on private land and because of their monetary value some individuals will trespass and cause landowners to become hostile, often even to law abiding herpers/biologists/collectors/etc. who search from the road.
That silliness aside, on to some Oustalet’s ecology!
The population in Dade is likely pretty widespread, because Oustalet’s are known to cover a lot of ground when they decide to disperse. They will eat (almost) anything they can fit into their mouth, and considering they grow to be tied for the largest chameleon species, that’s quite a bit – including small birds. Here’s a adult male for size reference:
They are most definitely “beefy” chameleons, and like most chameleons grow extremely quickly. I’m personally amazed at how they’ve done so well in Dade County considering their egg incubation time is nearly a year! One would think that fire ants, torrential rains or bitter drought would overcome the clutch at some point during the year. Their clutch size can easily be up to and over 60 eggs.
In their native range (Madagascar) they primarily inhabit ecotones (edge habitats) and disturbed areas – which happens to be their primary haunts here in Florida as well.
Efforts are underway, spearheaded by FWC, to assess the impact of this species in Florida. Fortunately, this species seems to survive a lot better in disturbed (read: already screwed-up) areas than in pristine habitat, but more study will be needed to be certain.