Company Garden

Gravity fed: I m one with the twig... and outta here.

I’ve often thought of designing a bumper sticker that says “I brake for chameleons” – as I’m very fond of these beautiful little creatures; and many a time I’ve stopped oncoming traffic as I pick one up off the middle of a hot tar road, and restored it to the foliage (hopefully in the direction it was headed towards).

Frances Bishop of Somerset West sent me these delightful photos of this little green fellow, and mentioned that whereas they had been prolific in the garden years ago, they now seem rarer.

My friend Anita Bunn has a lush, rambling farm food garden, where Cape dwarf chameleons thrive, and on occasion she’s put one on her shoulder, where it sat nonchalantly, flicking out its tongue periodically (which is twice the length of its body), and catching flies from this impromptu human perch.

They only occur in areas around Cape Town, the Boland, and the mountainous coastline as far as Agulhas, and with urban encroachment into breeding areas and habitat, they have to use their capacity for camouflague (which is always impressive to observe, as they lighten or darken against a background), or to inflate their size through puffing up, to deter a predator (of which domestic cats are probably the greatest).

Recently I helped some friends to relocate chameleons from an area that was going to be trimmed of all the low-lying riverside bushes (gardening activity is also a common source of injury or death to these reptiles).

We did it at night, with the help of headlamps, as they were easier to spot that way, and preoccupied with their nocturnal hunting.

We just placed them on nearby bushes that weren’t part of the planned pruning, and they happily got on with the business of securing their dinner, safe from shears.

Perhaps one of their quaintest and most curious features is the ability to swivel their eyes in different directions. They are the only lizard species that can do so (and their eyes have been described as tiny turrets, and the cone-shaped eyelids swivel with the eyes, a very handy skill).

This monocular vision means their brains can process the images from both eyes separately, and then when he spots his prey, both are swiveled forward for binocular vision, which gives it the depth perception necessary to zap those bugs with unerring accuracy.

The wonder of nature never ceases to amaze me, and when I greet the dawn each day, with my cup of tea in the garden, I’m struck by all the precious companions, big and infinitesimally small, who share this green habitat with me.

We are indeed custodians, and with that comes not only awesome responsibility, but also the privilege and joy of being able to observe the creatures who are our companions.

Carolyn Frost: Editor