The Mediterranean Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) is a unique animal of great research interest. It is considered a symbolic species in most parts of Europe where it is found. It is a protected species according to Greek and European legislation, as well as international conventions. Samos Island host the last population of the Mediterranean chameleon in Greece. In the past, the species had also been identified in Chios and Crete island, however, there have been no confirmed reports of their existence on these island in recent years.
Another chameleon species, the African Chameleon, is also found in Greece however it only lives in Peloponnesus, a southern area of the Greek mainland. This species seems to have been introduced to Greece through Egypt thousands of years ago.
Chameleons greatly contribute to the balance of local island ecosystem of Samos, due to their role in regulating insect populations. It is important to realise that the island ecosystems of the Aegean Sea have been isolated for many centuries, which makes their biodiversity particularly vulnerable to threats and human pressure. For this reason, a large fire or the inappropriate use of pesticides can be fatal for the remaining Mediterranean chameleon population in Greece.
The researchers of Archipelagos terrestrial team have been studying the ecology of these charismatic animals in Samos for 9 years. The knowledge of scarcity of the species and the responsibility that this creates, Archipelagos Institute has conducted field research and protection actions since 2009. The aim of this research is to contribute to the “defence” of this rare species. For this purpose they systematically work, not only to collect data but also to raise the awareness of the local community about the importance and rarity of the species.
Chameleons are arboreal reptiles that spend most of their lives hidden in branches of high shrubs or trees. However, during the breeding season, they leave the safety of the trees and reach the ground in search of a mate or in order to create a nest and lay their eggs. Like all the lizards found in Greece, chameleons DO NOT have poison and are completely harmless to humans.
Chameleons are one of the most easily identifiable members of the lizard family. They have a prehensile tail, which acts as a fifth limb and can grasp onto branches. They have large, turreted eyes, with fused eyelids able to move independently of each other, allowing them to focus on two different fields of view. When it locates its prey, the chameleon is able to switch to binocular vision in order to target the insect better. Chameleons use their tongues as the predominant method for catching prey. The common chameleon deliberately moves in a slow manner, which is a ruse to convince potential predators that it is just a leaf in the wind.
What to do if you come across a chameleon:
- If you find a chameleon in the countryside or in a tree, do not touch it or disturb it!
- It is possible to observe chameleons crossing the road. If it does not endanger us, pedestrians or other vehicles, we can stop and place the chameleon away from the road to the nearest suitable location (preferably with high vegetation and trees). For transportation, it is best to place it on a newspaper or other surface and avoid contact with bare hands.
- If it is threatened by a dog or cat, place it on a branch of the nearest shrub or tree, away from the animals.
- If you find it trapped somewhere, move it to a branch as close to where you found it.
- If you find an injured chameleon or observe someone illegally selling wild chameleons, contact the Archipelagos Institute directly on 2273061191 (and for emergencies at 6974744949) and with local forestry and guards.
In any other case, do not touch the chameleon! Under no circumstances do you take the animal home with you, chameleons are strictly protected by Greek and international law.
These animals are very vulnerable to human presence and nuisance, which can have serious health effects.
To learn more watch the following video: