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Wild Eyes: Chameleons In Florida!?

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

By David Graham: 9-3-2021

With everything else that has displaced residency in Florida (along with myself) there has been one 'exotic' or 'invasive' animal that has really spurred my curiosity the most since moving here.

While I am venturing off-topic a little here... fishing was not my first love. I grew up fanatically obsessed with wildlife - especially reptiles and amphibians. When I was a kid I had built and decorated my bedroom with faux plants and trees to mimic the jungle, complete with replica (toy) wildlife. If I wasn't actively engaged in the outdoors, I was inside trying to make it feel like I was.

So - even today the casual encounter with a little lizard or snake is a stimuli... my interest has been deeply embedded into my dna, and seems to have even passed on to my kids. While I don't necessarily make it a mission to go out and look for reptiles and amphibians much these days, I found out Florida has established populations of chameleons living in the wild and that changed everything!

In South Florida there are breeding populations of chameleons - predominantly the veiled chameleon. Native to Saudi Arabia and the Arabian Peninsula - one might otherwise have to travel halfway across the world to see these things in the wild.... or the local pet-shop.

Undoubtedly the result of pet-release... chameleon 'farming' has now become a thing. People are intentionally capturing, breeding, and relocating chameleons across the state both for the passion of catching them and for 'farming' their own populations to sell in the pet trade.

The culture of reptile enthusiasts actively engaged in this activity are very protective of their 'spots'... the scene is extremely secretive and hush hush. Still, with the right amount of research or 'social networking' getting in on a good spot is doable. For that reason, I cant share where exactly I went last weekend.

My daughters love animals, especially my eldest. I went out with a friend last weekend who had the hookup and in short order we were spotting chameleons under the bright lights of flashlights in the darkness. Chameleons are diurnal reptiles... meaning, they are active during the daytime but sleep at night. When shined with a flashlight at night the chameleon has almost a neon green shine to them - they stick out among the darker foliage they hide in, exposing in what would ordinarily be an impossible to find hiding spot. When spotted - a long pole or stick is handy in either bringing down the branch they are in, or gently coaxing them in to climbing onto.

While we must have caught somewhere around 20 chameleons, I only kept 2 of them to bring home for my daughters... a very small one I knew they wouldn't be afraid of, and a big impressive male we could admire and then release into our own yard.

For now - the smaller chameleon is being kept in an enclosure where my daughters can observe him feeding and watch his development.

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