The world’s largest chameleon has been successfully bred at Chester Zoo in a first for the UK. The zoo welcomed to the world a fleet of tiny hatchlings with big shoes to fill. The Parson’s chameleon has the longest incubation time of any reptile in the world, cooking for around 600 days. So far just 10 of the clutch have hatched, but a further 17 remain in the incubator.
The Parson’s chameleon (Calumma parsonii) is native to Madagascar where these animals roam in the wild reaching lengths of over half a meter and weighing around 700 grams (1.5 pounds). For comparison, the wee babies currently weigh a measly 1.5 grams (0.05 ounces). In its adult form it’s been compared to Pinocchio for the sizable snoot it develops in later life.
The veritable baby boom is being described as a momentous event by keepers at the zoo who in the course of the eggs’ incubation developed many skills for keeping reptilian eggs viable for such a long time. It’s likely what they learned will contribute towards the conservation of many endangered species beyond the Parson’s chameleon.
“The levels of intricate care and attention to detail provided by the team over a number of years to achieve this breeding success has been truly remarkable,” said Jay Redbond, Team Manager of Reptiles at Chester Zoo in a statement sent to IFLScience.
“We’ve had to carefully replicate the seasonal variations of Madagascar and mimic the exact same conditions these chameleons experience on the island, right here in Chester, and that’s no easy feat. Every slight tweak to temperature and humidity each day and night has been meticulously recorded and, now that we’ve cracked this, we believe we’ll be able to take this information and apply it to help save some of Madagascar’s other threatened reptile species.”
In Madagascar, the Parson’s chameleon population has dropped by more than 20 percent in the last two decades due to habitat loss in the region. Deforestation has seen the once dense forest in which these animals live reduced to sparse and fragmented habitats, which threaten their survival.
“Our teams are currently on the ground in Madagascar, alongside our partners Madagasikara Voakajy, fighting to protect what’s left of the island’s beautiful forests and the species that call it home,” said Gerardo Garcia, Curator of Lower Vertebrates & Invertebrates.
“The widespread destruction of the forests on the island has seen more than 90% of its trees cut down for agriculture and logging – taking with it hundreds of precious species that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth, just like the Parson’s chameleon.
“That’s why we need to learn as much as we can, as quickly as we can to help prevent species from becoming extinct. These new hatchlings may be small in stature for now, but their impact will be huge in helping us to accelerate our efforts to save some of Madagascar’s rarest reptiles.”