Exotic South Florida: Farming For Chameleons?

07 Aug


Hello all, I’ve finished up my Master’s Degree and finally have some free time on my hands that isn’t spent working on theses and whatnot – so a little thought I’ve been musing on for some time… But first, an anecdote:



I walked through the lonely rows of twisted avocado trees, intently scanning for something off… Something that would betray my saurian quarry, something – there it was! A flash of light green, almost lime in color, a telltale sign that I had not only found my target species the Oustalet’s Chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti), but that I’d turned up a female at that. I got a little closer, waiting for the color to make itself manifest as a curly-tailed shape. But it didn’t: I got close and examined the light patch in the illumination of my headlamp, and sure enough: t’was a caterpillar.


Such has been a typical scene from searching for Oustalet’s Chameleons in Dade County from the past year-or-so. Chameleons are becoming ever-harder to find because of constant nightly pressure from collectors of every sort, and their roommates in the agricultural lands they call home – caterpillars, other insects and Anoles of various species – seem to be abundant. Of particular note are the caterpillars, which the grove workers have complained of late have a tendency to eat the leaves on the avocado trees, which in turn affects the overall fitness of the plant, and in turn fruit production. What’s interesting is, when I first started looking for Oustalet’s in years past, these chameleons were plentiful: a dozen or more in a night was little problem oftentimes. During this time one of the only living things found in the grove were the chameleons themselves: seldom if ever was a caterpillar or insect of any kind detected.

So, given the concerns in southern Florida about overuse of pesticides, might we not turn to herpetofaunal biocontrol? These chameleons have the potential to limit prey species, which coincidentally are often agricultural pests species – in fact, a study done by UF found that most of their diet consisted of insects ( Obviously, the big question here is whether Oustalets (or Veileds, or any other species for that matter) have the potential to become invasive. This is a question that has received little research (and understandably so: there are bigger exotic fish to fry!) but as of now it does seem that they are largely dependent on agricultural areas as a source population, though they have been found in far lesser densities outside such areas. Let’s hear from some of the Field Ventures readers: what do you think about Oustalet’s Chameleons (or other species) as pest control in Florida?




5 responses to “Exotic South Florida: Farming For Chameleons?

  1. jabinb

    07/08/2014 at 1:59 pm

    I’m for herpetofaunal biocontrol. With populations low at this time it would be easier to manage. Don’t let the Oustalet become the new python (is that even possible though…ha!)

  2. Daniel D. Dye

    08/08/2014 at 1:49 am

    Interesting, Josh. I never thought of them as being a major influence on caterpillar population, but it makes sense to me. Did you ID the caterpillars?

  3. Josh

    08/08/2014 at 2:12 pm

    Jabin – Interesting, I think that they might actually be limited to the groves by freezes – Obviously research would be needed to figure it out, but it seems like the once-every-few-years freezes keeps them contained mostly to the agricultural areas with some (but not much) spillover into natural areas between freezes. Of all the surveys I’ve done, very few have been outside of agricultural areas, despite having spent a lot of time in Navy Wells (native pine rockland tract right next to the Avocado Grove) looking for them. I think the ag areas provide some sort of refuge by having thick soil (most of the native habitat in southern Florida is wet or limestone, both difficult to burrow down in), and also because the managers will take extreme measures to keep the ag lands frost free – running sprinklers all night when below freezing, and circling with helicopters to keep warmer air on the crops.

    Dan – You know, I knew someone was going to ask, and I can’t find a picture of the species anywhere… Funny enough, even on the poster/presentation link I posted caterpillars were the one group they didn’t go down to family or genus level with. I’ll take a picture if I get out and find one again at some point.

  4. Jake Scott

    10/08/2014 at 2:23 am

    Great job there Master Josh! Maybe the caterpillars are sphinx moth caterpillars. I’ve seen a few of them in the groves and several of the moths.

  5. Josh

    11/08/2014 at 1:37 pm

    Jake – were they big, green suckers? Not necessarily hairy, but having a few hairs (like a lepidopteran 5 O’clock shadow)?


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