Camouflage and escape decisions in the common chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon




In species with reduced locomotory abilities, camouflage seems to be far more important than other behavioural tactics (e.g. running) to elude predatory attacks. In this study, we examined the effects of camouflage on escape decisions in the common chameleon Chamaeleo chamaeleon. The effectiveness of camouflage was assessed by the ability of humans to detect different sized chameleons placed on different backgrounds (vegetation of high and low density, defined here as open and dense bushes), both in the field and in photographs. Escape behaviour was analysed by simulating a predator attack (in our case, approach by a human). As expected, the probability of detection by a potential predator was size- and background dependent. In the field, detection time (but not distance) was significantly higher for chameleons of a given size perched on dense (Myoporum) than open (Retama) bushes. When using photographs, the probability of detection was higher for large (adult) chameleons perched on open (Retama or Nerium) bushes and lower for hatchlings perched on dense (Myoporum or Cupressus) bushes. Con-spicuousness greatly influenced the escape tactics of individuals. Chameleons perched on more protected Myoporum allowed closest approach distances than those perched on less protected Retama. In general, antipredatory responses (defined here as ‘first movement’, ‘fléeing’, ‘mouth opening’ or ‘free falling’) occurred significantly earlier in the trial sequence in chameleons perched on clear Retama than those perched in Myoporum. Two antipredatory responses were size-dependent: juveniles and adults exhibited ‘mouth opening’ more frequently than hatchlings whereas ‘free falling’ was more frequently recorded for hatchlings. Our results suggest that size and vegetation greatly influence the risk of detection by predators and this variation influences an individual's decision about when and how to escape