How Can You Help Protect Earth’s Most Fragile Species?

Our planet is facing an extinction crisis that is almost entirely human-caused. Scientists and conservation experts estimate that Earth is currently in the midst of its sixth mass extinction of plants and animals within the past half-billion years. In other words, we’re currently experiencing the worst epidemic of mass species die-offs since the dinosaurs began their decline 65 million years ago.

Photo by Viktor Kern on Unsplash

Though extinction is a natural part of life, if left to its own devices, Earth loses species at a “background” rate of approximately one to five per year. However, biologists warn we’re now losing species at an estimated 1,000 to 10,000 times the background rate, with literally dozens going extinct every day.

As an animal lover, you’re undoubtedly alarmed by these statistics. Preserving our planet’s biodiversity is important to our environment, as well as the health of the living things it supports. So what are some ways you can get involved and protect endangered species?

How You Can Help Save Endangered Wildlife

  • Avoid buying products made from endangered animals. All over the world, illegal wildlife trading operations remain in business due to high consumer demand for products containing parts from endangered or at-risk species like elephants, tigers, sea turtles, rhinos, sharks and whales. Keep a watchful eye out for any vendors selling items such as reptile skins, ivory, sea turtle shells, shark fins and beluga caviar. Conservation organizations have developed apps such as Wildlife Witness and WildScan to allow people to help police the illegal wildlife trade. Be a responsible consumer and download these apps so you can report this type of illegal activity whenever you see it.
  • Don’t buy pets if you don’t know their origin. Ongoing trade in wild-caught exotic animals has a huge effect on population numbers in the wild. Even buying wild-caught animal species from legal sources increases demand and encourages illegal trading.
  • Support conservation groups and programs. By volunteering with, or donating money to, wildlife conservation organizations, you can help them make progress in their mission to protect threatened species and habitats.
  • Reduce your carbon footprint. Global climate change is the biggest threat to all living things on our planet. You can significantly reduce your carbon footprint by switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet; recycling and composting household waste whenever possible; reducing your energy and water use; and walking, biking or using public transport instead of driving everywhere.

Endangered Reptiles: A Closer Look

Though conservation organizations haven’t studied endangered reptiles as closely as they have many other at-risk animals, the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that globally, 21 percent (594 species) of the total evaluated reptiles in the world are endangered or vulnerable to extinction.

In the United States, 32 reptile species are at risk, about 9 percent of the total. Island reptile species have been dealt the hardest blow, with at least 28 island reptiles having died out since 1600.

Get Involved: Conservation Organizations

If you’re inspired to donate to or volunteer with a conservation organization working to protect endangered animals and their ecosystems, here are some to get you started. There are so many of these worthy groups that we’re barely scratching the surface with this list, so be sure to do your own research to find causes that are close to your heart.

Two New Discoveries Expand the Chameleon Family

Chameleons belong to a diverse family. The longest chameleon can grow to approximately two feet in length while the smallestwelcome to canvas chameleons chameleon can fit on the tip of your thumb. Chameleons range in color from brown and green hues to white and bright blues, greens, yellows, and reds.  Two recent discoveries have expanded the family’s diversity.

Oldest chameleon?

100 million years ago, a small lizard creature was crawling through the tropics of present-day Myanmar when it had the misfortune of getting trapped in the resin of a coniferous tree. This resin, which fossilized into amber, preserved the dime-sized specimen along with 10 other specimens of lizards. That means these specimens became fossilized during the Dinosaur Age.

These specimens were made available for study by a private collector at the American Museum of Natural History. A team led by Edward Stanley, a University of Florida postdoctoral student in herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural history, used 3D scanning techniques to examine the specimens. One specimen had chameleon-like characteristics that lead researchers to believe it is a chameleon; for example, the specimen has the chameleon’s projectile tongue but had not yet developed the body shape and toes we currently associate with chameleons.

These specimens will be studied more closely and will be named in the future. If this specimen is a chameleon, it will be approximately 78 million years older than the previously thought oldest chameleon making it the oldest chameleon on records.

Stay tuned for more developments on this!

New species 

In the same year scientists discovered what is possibly the oldest species of chameleon, they also discovered a new species of chameleon in Tanzania. The new species is named Kinyongia msuyae, in honor of Tanzania herpetology pioneer Charles A. Msuyae. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, “The brown and green chameleon with scattered blue spots was found in four montane forest patches in the Udzungwa Mountains and Southern Highlands.”

While discovering new species is always exciting, this discovery also provides insight into the biodiversity of the Makambako Gao, which is a disputed “zoological barrier” between regions of the Southern Highlands and Eastern Arc Mountains. The presence of this chameleon lends credence to the argument that this barrier does not exist and that there is a close relationship between the biodiversity of the neighboring regions.

What are your thoughts on these discoveries?




Rhampholeon acuminatus – Nguru Pygmy Chameleon

I think this series of pictures is by far one of my all time favorites! Baby #3 was being extremely shy and didn’t want to come out in full view of the camera. She was perfectly fine with hiding behind my finger as much as possible.

Please help us spread these photographs by sharing them on your page. The more attention and awareness we can bring to these incredible R. acuminatus pygmy chameleons the better!

Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (14) Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (13) Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (12)

Rhampholeon acuminatus – Nguru Pygmy Chameleon

Round two of these amazing and so tiny R. acuminatus baby chameleons. This little guy is sporting an extra large rostral right out of the egg. I’m not positive but I would be willing to bet this guy is a male because of that.

A little information for those who are not familiar with this species, Rhampholeon Acuminatus are endemic to the Nguru Mountains in Tanzania. This is how they received their common name of the Nguru pygmy chameleon.

Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (9) Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (8) Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (7) Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (6) Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (5)Roblox Robux Hack 2017

Rhampholeon acuminatus – Nguru Pygmy Chameleon

Great things always come in small packages! We just had our last clutch of eggs hatch from our Rhampholeon acuminatus group. It is bitter sweet as these little gems will most likely be the last of the acuminatus that we will have here at Canvas. So, we decided that we will post pictures of the babies over the next few days in hope that everyone can enjoy for as long as possible!

For those of you who are not aware, as of last year R. acuminatus have been reevaluated and are now listed as “Critically Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. This is only one step up from Extinct in the wild! Because of this, we feel it is best to no longer work with this species in captivity as wild caught animals would be necessary for future breeding. Although there are currently no regulation to protect the export of R. acuminatus at this time, we hope that in the near future there will be new quotas adopted that help protect these amazing animals in the wild.
Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (4) Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (3) Rhampholeon Acuminatus - Captive Born Baby - Canvas Chameleons (2)

National Geographic – Beautiful Footage: Chameleons Are Amazing

It is with great honor that we are be able to share this video with everyone in the community! It is a dream come true to be able to work with National Geographic and have them feature some of our chameleons in their latest video! The video was filmed for the September issue of the National Geographic Magazine where we are also featured as part of the article “The Colorful Language of Chameleons”. The magazine hits stores on August 15th so be sure to pick up a copy!

National Geographic Magazine Article – September 2015 Issue


Picture of a chameleon

The Colorful Language of Chameleons

Chameleons communicate with color change, hunt with lightning-fast tongues—and live in some of Earth’s most threatened habitats.

By Patricia Edmonds
Photographs by Christian Ziegler

For sheer breadth of freakish anatomical features, the chameleon has few rivals. A tongue far longer than its body, shooting out to snatch insects in a fraction of a second. Telescopic-vision eyes that swivel independently in domed turrets. Feet with toes fused into mitten-like pincers. Horns sprouting from brow and snout. Knobbly nasal ornaments. A skin flap circling the neck like a lace ruff on an Elizabethan noble.

Of all its corporeal quirks, the chameleon is most defined by one, noted as far back as Aristotle: color-changing skin. It’s a popular myth that chameleons take on the color of what they touch. Though some color changes do help them blend into their surroundings, the skin’s changing hue is in fact a physiological reaction that’s mostly for communication. It’s the lizard using colorful language, expressing itself about things that affect it: courtship, competition, environmental stress.

At least that’s the belief today. “Even though chameleons have attracted attention for centuries, there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding them,” says Christopher Anderson, a biology postdoctoral associate at Brown University and a chameleon expert. “We’re still piecing together how their mechanisms actually work,” from the explosive projection of the tongue to the physics of the varying skin colors. (Learn more about chameleons at a website Anderson runs.)

“Even though chameleons have attracted attention for centuries, there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding them.”

Christopher Anderson | biology postdoctoral associate at Brown University

Scientists recently have made important discoveries about chameleon physiology by watching the lizards in captivity. Their future in the wild, meanwhile, is far from certain.

When the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) released a new Red List assessment of chameleons last November, it ranked at least half the species as threatened or near threatened. Anderson is a member of the IUCN Chameleon Specialist Group, as is biologist Krystal Tolley, a National Geographic grantee whose expeditions in southern Africa have documented new chameleon species and vanishing habitats. (Read Tolley’s blog posts from her expeditions.)

In Afrikaans, says Tolley, chameleons have two common names. One isverkleurmannetjies, which means “colorful little men.” The other, trapsuutjies, translates as “treading carefully.” That refers to the lizards’ odd, slow gait—but also could be read as a plea to conserve the curious species and their home terrain.

Picture of a chameleon
Rostral protuberances—such as this one on a long-nosed chameleon—help individuals of like species identify each other and can be used as jousting weapons.

How Chameleons Change Color

About 40 percent of the 200-plus known chameleon species are found on the island of Madagascar. Most of the rest live on the African continent. Thanks to DNA testing, some chameleons that look nearly identical have been found to be genetically distinct. More than 20 percent of the known species have been identified in just the past 15 years.

Given their many odd traits, chameleons “have always intrigued naturalists,” Anderson says. Because the lizards often died on the journey from Madagascar and the African continent to Western laboratories, early herpetologists could only guess at how live chameleons worked. That yielded theories that seem laughable now, he says: “It was once thought that the chameleon tongue projected because it inflated with air or filled with blood, like erectile tissue.”

“It was once thought that the chameleon tongue projected because it inflated with air or filled with blood, like erectile tissue.”

Christopher Anderson

Anderson studies chameleon feeding in intricate detail. Using a camera that captures 3,000 frames a second, he turned 0.56 seconds of a chameleon eating a cricket into a 28-second instructional video on projection mechanics. (See videos of chameleon tongue projections.)

Stored in the lizard’s throat pouch is a tongue bone surrounded by sheaths of elastic, collagenous tissue inside a tubular accelerator muscle. When the chameleon spies an insect, it protrudes its tongue from its mouth, and the muscle contracts, squeezing the sheaths, which shoot out as if spring-loaded. The tongue tip is shaped so that it acts like a wet suction cup, grabbing the prey. The tongue recoils; dinner is served.

Scientists have more to learn about tongue projection, Anderson says. His research suggests that in some chameleons, it may go even farther and faster than previously thought.

The understanding of chameleon coloration also has changed over time—and dramatically earlier this year, when Michel Milinkovitch’s research was published. Scientists had long thought that chameleons changed color when skin cell pigments spread out along veinlike cell extensions. Milinkovitch, an evolutionary geneticist and biophysicist, says that theory didn’t wash, because there are many green chameleons but no green pigments in their skin cells.

So Milinkovitch and his University of Geneva colleagues began “doing physics and biology together,” he says. Beneath a layer of pigmentary skin cells, they found another layer of skin cells containing nanoscale crystals arranged in a triangular lattice.

By exposing samples of chameleon skin to pressure and chemicals, the researchers discovered that these crystals can be “tuned” to alter the spacing between them. That in turn affects the color of light that the lattice of crystals reflects. As the distance between the crystals increases, the reflected colors shift from blue to green to yellow to orange to red—a kaleidoscopic display that’s common among some panther chameleons as they progress from relaxed to agitated or amorous. (See a video Milinkovitch’s team made of a panther chameleon color change.)

Picture of a chameleon
An insect succumbs to a foraging Calumma chameleon, whose extremely sharp vision allows it to project its long tongue with pinpoint accuracy.

New Ways to Hide

At age seven, Nick Henn got his first chameleon. Twenty years later the hobbyist and breeder keeps as many as 200 of them in the basement of his business in Reading, Pennsylvania.

Rows of wire-mesh cages contain plants for climbing and sandy floors where females can lay eggs. Lights and misters simulate the lizards’ native climes. Arranging the cages is as tricky as seating warring factions at a United Nations summit. To keep the animals from riling each other, Henn places females where they can’t see males, and males where they can’t see females—or rival males.

Ember, a young male panther chameleon, is a so-called red bar, a variety that’s native to the Ambilobe district in northern Madagascar. His torso has red and green zebra stripes plus an aqua blue racing stripe along each side. When Henn opens Ember’s cage and prods him to climb onto a long stick, he “gets grumpy,” which Henn knows because the chameleon’s red bars get a little brighter.

Henn carries Ember on the stick around a corner to the cage inhabited by Bolt, an adult male blue-bar panther chameleon and the largest lizard in Henn’s collection. When Henn opens the door, and Bolt sees Ember, the response is immediate. By the time Bolt has advanced a few inches, his green bands have turned vivid yellow, and his eye sockets, throat, and spiked spine have changed from green to red orange. Ember becomes redder—but as shows go, Bolt’s is far more flamboyant. For good measure, as Bolt crawls nearer, his mouth gapes wide, displaying bright yellow gums.

“I keep envisioning the little chameleons clinging to their branches as that forest is getting chopped.”

Krystal Tolley | biologist and National Geographic grantee

Henn retreats and puts Ember back in his cage. Had he not, he says, Bolt might have tried to ram or bite Ember, whose skin almost certainly would have changed to brown—the color of crying uncle. (A 2014 study concluded that chameleons developed this fade-to-drab submissive ability because their “slow-moving lifestyle severely restricts their ability to rapidly and safely flee from dominant individuals.”)

Though all chameleons change color, some species don’t change dramatically enough to cow observers. However, almost all chameleons do have another technique for physical intimidation: They can make themselves look larger. They narrow the width and increase the height of their bodies by unfolding their jointed, V-shaped ribs to elevate their spine. They also can look more massive by coiling their tails tightly and using their tongue apparatus to expand their throats. Turning this profile to its nemesis, the lizard looks significantly bulkier.

In the cages where Henn keeps female chameleons, one named Katy Perry—salmon pink because she’s ready to mate—is next door to one named Peanut, pink with dark bars because she has already mated and is gravid, carrying eggs. If Katy were approached by a male that impressed her with his courtship colors and bobbing, swaying dance, she might submit to being mounted. If the same male approached Peanut, she would become intensely darker with bright spots and open her maw menacingly at him. If he persisted, she’d hiss or try to bite him.

Both male and female chameleons are polygamous. Most species are egg layers, but some deliver live young in clear, cocoon-like sacs. Chameleons do no parenting, so the young are on their own as soon as they’re born or hatched.

To avoid the birds and snakes that hunt them, chameleons have evolved novel ways to hide. Most species are arboreal; when they narrow their bodies, they’re slender enough to hide on the opposite side of a branch. If ground dwelling chameleons see a predator, Tolley says, some “play leaf,” contorting their bodies to look like crumpled leaves on the forest floor.

Chameleons can hide from some threats but not from the slash-and-burn agriculture destroying their habitats. The IUCN lists nine species as critically endangered, 37 as endangered, 20 as vulnerable, and 35 as near threatened.

Picture of a chameleon
The entire life cycle of the Labord’s chameleon lasts roughly a year. Some chameleon species may live a dozen years in captivity, but less than half that in the wild.

Identifying New Species

Tolley and her team have identified 11 new chameleon species since 2006, in South Africa, Mozambique, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Massachusetts-born professor has studied the lizards in Africa since 2001 and works for the South African National Biodiversity Institute in Cape Town.

When a genetics study confirms that a chameleon is a new species, “it feels like you’re not just writing some random scientific paper that nobody will read,” Tolley says. “You’re accomplishing something—this is going to be forever.”

In the next breath she notes that “at the same time as thinking, ‘Wow, this is so cool,’ it was awful. I keep envisioning the little chameleons clinging to their branches as that forest is getting chopped.”

Describing it, her voice breaks. “I could not help thinking, I wish we’d never found them,” she says. “Because if this doesn’t stop, they’ll soon be extinct.”

Seconds-Old Baby Chameleon Doesn’t Realize He’s Out Of His Egg

What an honor it is to have our little one shared on so many different websites! Here is an amazing write up from Mother Nature Network on our now viral newly hatched Nosy Be Panther Chameleon!

Baby Hatchling Panther Chameleon - Canvas Chameleons (4)
Whoever says reptiles aren’t cute is out of their mind. Case in point: This tiny chameleon hatchling who thinks it’s still inside an egg!

While it’s certainly an adorable sight, the newborn Nosy Be panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis) is actually curled up like this as a result of a natural hatching mishap — one that could only be remedied with a little help from his human caretaker, Nick Henn of Canvas Chameleons.

Generally, young chameleons of this species don’t need any help hatching so long as the first crack they make in the shell (known as the “pip”) is located at the end of the egg where their head is positioned. However, if they pip on the side of the egg (as the one in this photo did), then it can be a grave challenge for them to push out of the shell since their head isn’t near the cracked pipping hole.

That’s why Henn knew he had to keep a careful eye on this particular egg as he oversaw the hatching of the whole clutch.

Baby Hatchling Panther Chameleon - Canvas Chameleons (2)

Once they officially pip, hatchlings take about a day to absorb the rest of their egg’s nutrients before finding the strength to push out completely. Sadly, no matter how strong and ready for life they are, a poorly directed pip can mean a death sentence for them.

“When his siblings were running around the container and he was still hanging out in the egg, I knew it was time to help,” Henn explains on his Facebook page. “This isn’t to say that he wouldn’t have found a way out, but based off my past experiences with situations just like this, I felt it was necessary to play Mother Nature and give him a helping hand.”

It turned out to be a good call because shortly after this, the little chameleon uncurled itself and is now thriving with the rest of its brothers and sisters.

Baby Hatchling Panther Chameleon - Canvas Chameleons (1)

Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.

Read more: Tiny chameleon hatchling still thinks it’s inside an egg