It's a chameleon, of course!
This week I am on the outskirts of Gilgil, a small town on the eastern "inside" of Kenya's Great Rift Valley. My children go to school neraby, and, much to our surprise, we have found a LOT of chameleons here. We always have an eye out for them, and this week we found one crossing the dirt road that winds towards our house, and one - this one - in the bush right outside our front door. We have also spied chameleons at school, including one that was sniffed out by my daughter's pony, Flashman!
This is a side striped chameleon. It is in the Family Chamaeleonidae and it's scientific name is Chameleo bitaeniatus. Chameleons are famous for their color changes, and this morning this guy looked just like the branch he was resting on. Chameleons change color due to their hormonal or emotional state, and are often camoflaged in relation to the background. They also respond to changes in temperature, light, and shade. Camoflage is an adaptation to the many predators in their habitat, including birds, snakes, and tree-climbing carnivores.
Like all other chameleons, the side striped has eyes that move independently, clawed feet with opposed bundles of toes for climbing, and a telescopic tongue that can be shot at it's prey, which includes grasshoppers and flies.
Here is a video of another side striped catching a fly. Watch closely or you might miss it...
Did you see it?
Back soon with more stories, and get in touch if you have a question!
You can learn more about chameleons from the scientists of the Chameleon Specialist Group:
Chameleon Specialist Group Facebook Page
And here is a cool video clip of one of the smallest chameleons, the Madagascan dwarf chameleon, from David Attenborough's Story of Life series at the BBC:
My go-to reference book for chameleons (and all other reptiles in Africa) is A Field Guide to the Reptiles of East Africa, by Spawls, Howell, Drewes, and Ashe. Maybe your library has it!
We live in one of the best places on the planet for observing wildlife, and can see a great number of species during the day, including several carnivores. However, there are also quite a few nocturnal, shy animals that we very rarely catch a glimpse of. Luckily, we have the camera traps to help us out!
I am always excited to check the cameras in the morning, to see who came to visit us during the night. And I am always happy to see a civet! I have only seen two civets in "real time" - when we have been out driving on a night safari. But we see civets in the camera trap at least once a week, and we think we have two resident civets here.
The African civet (Civettictis civetta) is the largest member of the Family Viverridae living in Africa. This family includes the genets, civets, and linsangs. Nocturnal carnivores with fantastic spot and stripe patterns, African civets are present throughout most of sub-Saharan Africa. They are omnivorous and opportunistic - meaning they eat lots of different things, including fruit, insects, eggs, and small mammals. Little research has been done on wild civets, but you can learn more about them in the wonderful Mammals of Africa series edited by Jonathan Kingdon and colleagues.
Let me know if you have any questions!
Here is another view of the same civet:
Welcome to my new blog - Scientist on Safari!
And what a better way to start than with a video of one of the many night visitors we have at our home in Kenya? This is a spotted hyena, the most abundant large carnivore in the Masai Mara. In fact, the spotted hyena is the most abundant large carnivore in sub-Saharan Africa. The spotted hyena is one of my favorite animals, and I spent several years studying one particularly large clan of hyenas for my doctorate. However, this particular hyena is NOT a favorite. She destroyed my last camera trap! As you can see, she is investigating my new camera.... luckily, she didn't crush this one! I'll tell you more about camera traps and hyenas in future blog posts.
Contact me if you have a question or request!