When I was six years old, I had a “pet” Chameleon. She lived on the bush next to our post box and every morning I would go out to find her. It fascinated me how she could blend in with her surroundings and I felt I had a very special friend.
Growing up as kids, we got to know which of the garden hedges were most liked by the chameleons and if we ever found one in an unsafe place, there was usually a bush close by where we could relocate them.
Nowadays most of those hedges and bushes have made way for walls and fencing and slowly but surely the chameleons have been harder and harder to find.
Truth be told, when it’s time for the council to trim the trees along the sidewalks and the canal that runs through our suburb, you can often find Kathy and I rescuing and relocating chameleons that are left in the branch trimmings for the council truck to collect a few days later.
A couple of days ago, while on a site visit to our new garden plot, Kathy’s youngest son found a teeny little baby chameleon on the ground. We were amazed that he spotted the little guy because he was the same colour as the woody mulch on the ground as you can see in the above photo.
We were relieved too because the chickens were all coming past on their way to roost for the night and we all know how good their eyesight is!
We took the little fella home and released him in a safe place.
This got us thinking: we need to plant create more chameleon friendly spaces, especially here in Cape Town where the Cape Dwarf Chameleon is dwindling in numbers in suburban areas. Not only are we doing our bit to encourage the chameleon population, we are also inviting a highly beneficial predator into our gardens. Win Win: we like that.
Let’s take a look at how to create a Chameleon Friendly Garden:
Besides loss of habitat due to urban development there are some other threats the chameleons face, including pets and toxic pesticides.
It should go without say that toxic chemicals should be strongly avoided. Not just for chameleons but for all living creatures and eco-systems around us.
To ensure a chameleon friendly garden, you do not need to give up your beloved pets, you just need to choose a (sunny) spot that is well protected and out of the way of direct pathways and frequented areas. Terrains with no suitable habitat include lawns, paved areas, brickwork, or higher trees with trunks too wide for chameleons to climb.
If your pets are not ones to cohabit with chameleons you can always try create a safe spot for them at friends or family and if you ever find chameleons who may be in danger of becoming a pets chew toy, you can safely relocate them.
Sun, lots of Sun
Chameleons are cold blooded which means they need plenty of sun to regulate their body temperature. Choose a sunny spot in your garden that gets 8-10hrs of sun per day to plant chameleon friendly plants.
Chameleon Friendly Plants
Chameleons require vegetation in order to thrive – preferably with foliage they can easily grasp with their small claws, and perch on. Therefore, most suitable are bushes and small trees with some fine foliage or thin twigs for climbing.
Favoured local shrub species include:
Restio reeds, daisy bushes, Leonotis bushes, Cape Honeysuckle, Plumbago, Bitou bushes and Psoralea pinnata, Confetti bush, euryops daisy, tea bush or azaleas, sage bush (Buddleja salviifolia), hop bush, mahonia, lion’s ear, polygala or dune crowberry (Searsia crenata).
Favoured trees are those which provide low and accessible foliage, such as Karee trees, Willow & Virgilia.
A garden filled with trees with low-hanging branches is a nightmare for chameleons. The branches of trees (pines and oaks in particular) are too thick for the chameleons to move along. They attract little insect life and offer no nectar.
Food for Chameleons
Chameleons eat small insects such as moths, butterflies, flies, fruitflies, aphids, woodlice, beetles, spiders and small grasshoppers.
Many of the honeybee-friendly plants, such as euryops daisies, ribbon bushes, sage, fireball lilies, gazania and vygies will attract a variety of insects.
The best way to attract chameleons to your garden is to make sure that the soil is covered in a thick mulch of compost, decaying autumn leaves and woodchips. This rich forest floor environment will attract an entire microcosm of insect life.
Water for Chameleons
Chameleons drink the dew and rain droplets from the leaves of plants. During dry spells, spray the plants with a fine mist to ensure your little friends have something to drink.
Get Your Neighbours on Board
One of the most important things we can do is encourage “green corridors” for chameleons to explore. Get your neighbours on board and start creating safe spaces for chameleons to thrive together. Many plants grow from cuttings or self seed so you could share chameleon friendly plants among each other. Try posting in your social media community groups and chat with your neighbours. Get your kids on board too. They could possibly get something going at their schools.
Do you have chameleons in your garden? Have any chameleon friendly tips to share? We would love to hear from you.
Till next time,
Happy Chameleon Gardening!
Shireen & Kathy