Changing Colours – Mistaken Identities #2

May 20, 2009 at 3:34 pm | Posted in itchy mouth | 2 Comments
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So we have people mistaking the native and common Malayan Water Monitor Lizards for something rare or exotic and do not live in this tiny island. We also have people mistaking some smaller reptiles for similiarly exotic species too. Itchyfingers think that some explanation for this may be because people living in urban cities do not spend enough time to be with nature, so they do not have the opportunities to discover more about the flora and fauna. They are also more familiar with non-native species as they see more of these from documentaries.

One of the most common smaller lizards we have in the wild is the Changeable Lizard (Calotes versicolor).

“Huh? The ‘change-the-what’?” “Orrrr….you mean变色龙?” (literally ‘changing colour dragon’, or the Chameleon) Some people have asked, and I have heard parents teaching that to their children. Er, and we also heard parents pronouncing it as “cha-mer-long” when it should have been “ke-mee-lien“… :O

No. Changeable Lizards are NOT Chameleons. Yes, they do change their colours for camouflaging purposes but they are not the Chameleons. They should not be mistaken as the Chameleons as they look totally different!

A video still shot of a cute baby Chameleon from the famous Chatuchak
weekend market in Bangkok. It is illegal to keep Chameleons as pet in
Singapore so do not attempt to bring in one!

The most distinctive features of the Chameleon must be the eyes, feet and the tongue. The eyes are more protruded and each eye is capable of rotating and focusing separately to observe different objects simultaneously, giving them a 360 degree vision around the body. The feet, on first glance, look like there were only two toes. But a closer look shows that each foot has five toes with sharp claws that are fused into a group of two and a group of three, allowing Chameleons to grip tightly to narrow branches. Their long tongues can be extended out of the mouth rapidly for their insect prey. Size varies according to different species.

The Changeable Lizard is a small lizard of body length about 10 cm, with the tail they can measure more than 30 cm long. They are usually a dull brown, grey or olive with speckles or bands.

During the breeding season, the male’s head and shoulder turn bright
orange to crimson and the throat changes to black

This male Changeable Lizard has an unusual short stumped tail,
maybe due to fights or accidents..?

They are related to iguanas (which are not found here!) and they do not drop their tails. Usually they curl their long tail over the  head like this picture here. The Changeable Lizards are not native to Singapore. Rather, they were an introduced species in the 1980s.

As with most other introduced and non-native animal or plant species, the presence of the alien Changeable Lizard has threatened the survival of the native Green-crested Lizard (Bronchocela cristatella). Er, sounds like the case for human too…hahahah… 8)

The tail of the Green-crested Lizard can be as long as three times the reptile’s
body length! Total length can go to 57 cm! So to take its picture, you
got to have it small to accommodate the whole tail… :p

Otherwise, take a nice portrait of the Green-crested Lizard in its beautiful
green coat…the huge black eye-ring and red eyes are very prominent

Itchyfingers didn’t know that this lizard also has the ability to change colour
until recently when we saw one lizard with a tinge of brown on one of its
forelegs. The next moment when we peeped into the binoculars again,
its head had turned into a shade of brown too, before it scurried into the
thick vegetation and out of our sight…

Another commonly seen lizard in our gardens and parks is this small little one with the capability to glide. They are sometimes called the flying lizards as they look like they are flying from tree to tree… :p

This should be the male Common Gliding Lizard (Draco sumatranus),
with the triangular, bright yellow gular flag under the throat area. The males
flash this flap to attract females during breeding season. For females it is
much smaller and is blue flecked with black

The Dracos are small lizards with a body length about 10 cm, and can measure up to 20 cm with its tail. It is very exciting whenever you catch it in ‘flight’. I had two close encounter with the lizard while jogging along the canal. A dark shadow flew very close past me and landed on the nearest branch! Though tiny, it can glide very long distance. The secret lies in its six to seven pairs of ribs which are much longer than others. These ribs are covered by a large skin membrane that is folded like a fan. When the lizard glides, it spreads out its ribs foward, forming a gliding surface. There are a few species of these flying lizards in Singapore.

So you see, these little reptiles all look significantly different from one another, and certainly do not bear any resemblance to the more famous Chameleons. They are all fairly common in our parks and gardens, and it is especially easy to spot one or two under the mid-morning sun basking on trees, though it is now harder to find the Green-crested Lizards. 😦

Also see related posts:
> Living in Cold Blood – Mistaken Identities #1
Snake Tales


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  1. I really love this series you’ve got here. I always tell people that we don’t have iguanas and chameleons here in Singapore!

    • Ya…i just corrected a kid pointing at the ‘monitor lizard’ and shouting ‘komodo dragon’ again…

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