They may be small enough to sit comfortably on a pencil or fingertip, but Taronga Zoo’s new Veiled Chameleon hatchlings are already making a big impression.
Taronga has welcomed more than 20 baby chameleons, with the last of three clutches of eggs hatching this week.
About 5cm long, the hatchlings are the first born at the Zoo in over five years.
Currently housed in a special temperature-controlled area behind the scenes at Taronga’s Reptile World, the hatchlings have begun feeding on crickets and turning on a bright green colour display for keepers.
Reptile supervisor, Michael McFadden said the chameleons, which are native to Yemen and Saudi Arabia, would be mature and able to showcase their full colour palette within a year.
“Veiled Chameleons are a visually amazing species that we’re fortunate to have at Taronga. While they’re not endangered, they do play an important educational role in helping us to get people excited about reptiles and reptile conservation,” said Michael.
Normally a shade of green or brown while at rest, Veiled Chameleons can change colour when frightened, courting or defending territory.
“You’ll see shades of green, yellow, aqua and even very dark brown or black depending on their temperature, mood and reproductive behaviour. However, they don’t change colour to match a particular background like you see in cartoons,” said Michael.
Built for a life in the trees, Veiled Chameleons also have zygodactyl feet that can easily grasp branches, their eyes can rotate independently and look in two directions at once and their tongue can project 1.5 times their body length to capture prey.
“They can literally look forwards and backwards at the same time, which enables them to be on the watch for predators and food at all times,” said Michael.
Visitors will be able to see these amazing adaptations in action when up to four of the new hatchlings go on display once they reach maturity. The remaining hatchlings will move to other Australian zoos and wildlife parks once they reach 2-3 months of age.