Jackson’s Chameleons: Killers of Hawaii Insects and Snails
On a recent trip to the ridgeline of Lualualei Valley we were surprised to see a Jackson’s Chameleon, Chamaeleo jacksonii xantholophus . One of the guys I was with happened to be looking at an Ohia tree just off the trail (at about 2,400 ft above sea level) with a pair of binoculars and by chance he spotted a big female. You can see from the pictures that it was nicely camouflaged. I think the white patch on its side is a shedding piece of skin. I thought Jackson’s were found only in the Ko’olaus, so like I said, we were surprised. The next day in the office I called Army Environmental to tell them about it and they were very interested. It seems they have recently been finding them on the ridge to west of the location of our sighting. They have been collecting all the Jackson’s they find and analyzing their gut contents. Unfortunately they have been finding, among other things, native insects and native snails in their stomachs. I gave them the coordinates and description of where out sighting occurred, and amzingly enough they went back the next day a found the darn thing. It had evidently move to a nearby christmasberry tree. They collected it and are going to look at its stomach contents. I really hope the day never comes when I have to start killing these guys as part of an invasive species management project. I grew up loving them and dreamed of owning one as a pet – they rate high on the cool lizard scale. I’ve also always wanted a green iguana…maybe one day.
Anyway, here is some interesting information from Sean Mckeown’s Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians in the Hawaiian Islands (Diamond Head Publishing, Inc., 1996)
“Hawaiian Jackson’s Chameleons have all descended from several dozen specimens. In 1972, a Kaneohe pet shop owner, Robin Ventura, received a Hawaii State Dept. of Agriculture permit to bring in Jackson’s Chameleons for sale. They arrived thin and dehydrated, so he released the lizards into his backyard on Kane’ohe Bay Drive, figuring they could be retrieved later, as needed. The chameleons increased in numbers and by the late 1970’s had spread to the nearby watershed area at the base of the Ko’olau mountains. The country of Kenya stopped exporting this species in 1981. So, virtually every Jackson’s chameleon of this subspecies in captivity on the US mainland is of Hawaiian origing or has Hawaiian roots. In the islands, this lizard is one of the most popular animals with young people and is widely kept as a pet. ”
“The Jackson’s chameleon is now well established in Hawai’i. While it is most common on Oahu in areas of mid-elevation in the Ko’olau Range between Kane’ohe and Kailua, it has a wide, disjunct distributon throughout Oahu and can even be found on the much drier leeward side of the island. Additionally, it is now also well established at mid-elevation in several areas on the Kona side of the Big Island of Hawaii and on the island of Maui. In upcountry Maui around Makawao, these lizards are most frequently encountered in secondary disturbed forest areas, in various types of orchards and on hedges in yards. The first reports of this species on the islands of Kauai and Lanai were in 1995. The yellow-crested Jackson’s chameleon is native to the slopes of Mt. Kenya in the country of Kenya in East Africa where it occurs at 6,000-8,000 ft. (1830-2440 m) elevation. It is the largest of the three Jackson’s chameleon subspecies.”