Is this a scary monster from the latest Jurassic Park movie? Its body towering over the innocent victim; the jaws agape, ready for the kill; the bony ridges on its back set in deadly menace. Actually, it is only about 5cm long and more like a little bathtub toy that will go beep when you squeeze its funny nose. To this tiny Marshall’s Dwarf Chameleon we are the monsters and it is trying to impress and scare us with its posturing. It doesn’t need to worry, for excited as we are for this rare and wonderful opportunity, we have no intention to harm the little creature.
Marshall’s Dwarf Chameleon, also known as Rhampholeon marshalli, is a small – very small – relative of the well-known Flap-necked Chameleon, which is found throughout Zimbabwe. It is a so-called near-endemic, known only from the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe and Mt. Gorongosa in Mozambique. It inhabits the undergrowth layers of montane evergreen forest. In the Vumba it is common in places such as the Bunga Forest. They usually do not make such a spectacle of themselves and are very inconspicuous during the day, quietly going about their business of catching small insects in the forest. That’s why seeing and photographing this little guy was such a bonus. The best way to catch a glimpse of these chameleons is in fact at night because chameleons wear clean white pyjamas. When you are asleep you do not want to bother with all this colour changing business so that is turned off. They seem to be rather fond of to a place they can call a comfortable bed and tend to sleep in almost the same spot every night. Obviously chameleons have somewhat different ideas about comfort and hanging up-side-down from an exposed twig or leaf seems to be the thing to do. As a result you can spot them fairly easily if you want to go to the trouble of walking around the forest in the dark of night. And don’t forget to bring your torch.