Thursday, July 28, 2005

Hamachi, we hardly knew ye

Did you know we used to raise chameleons?
Meet Hamachi, a prime specimen of Chameleo quadricornis, the Four-horned Chameleon. In case you've never watched Jeff Corwin, here's what's neat about chameleons. Old World chameleons have opposable fingers, prehensile tails, independently mobile eyes, and personality to burn. They also despise one another, even while mating. Especially while mating. Imagine Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf: Liz Taylor and Richard Burton doing it on the living room floor. Chameleon sex makes that look civil. Chameleons do not change color to blend with their surroundings. They do change color to reflect their mood. Vivid colors indicate amorous interest. Black means, "Go away, I hate you." Chameleons housed together are black chameleons. Keep them together too long, and they die from stress. My abortive first novel Karakoram featured a race of intelligent, six-foot-long chameleons called the Amanu. By developing a variety of adaptations to their mutual loathing, they'd managed to develop a sophisticated culture, one with a complex (and, to an outsider, tortured) social dynamic. The male to female ratio averaged 10:1. Females controlled all wealth and property, and were polyandrous. Husbands engaged in all manner of high risk activities in order to attract their wife's attention. Here's a bit of hot Amanu sex, cribbed directly from my observation of the habits of Chameleo calyptratus, the Veiled Chameleon. Frank's a human (well -- sort of human) observer; Captain Leo is a Caravellier (kind of a space pirate); Vera is his wife. He's flown a long way for this. Frank felt a rush of air, then gaped in shock to see Leo viciously attacking Vera! The force of his tackle nearly knocked her from her perch, but she clung tenaciously with her back limbs and tail. The Captain’s jaws locked on her back, and dark drops of blood spattered the ground. Vera’s head and front limbs arched backward at an impossible angle. Her mouth gaped, she hissed loudly, and caught one of Leo’s back legs in her jaws. Now Leo’s blood joined Vera’s on the floor. Our chameleons never shed blood, but I do remember, with our first Chameleo calyptratus mating, Karen crying out, "Separate them -- he's killing her!" Followed shortly by, "Uh. Uh. Uh, he's not killing her." But I miss Hamachi. We kept him on a Ficus tree in a back room, and damned if he wouldn't march across the entire house three times a day to do battle with our male Chameleo pardalis, Thor. It was all Karen could do to keep them separate. Folks who raise chameleons either spend half a day misting their pets, dripping water on them, and hand-feeding them, or else they turn their homes into rain forests. We bought Thor from one such hobbyist. His carpets were moldy from the humidity, and crickets crawled everywhere. He, his wife, and several small children lived in their own private Madagascar. Eventually, we realized that the difficult part of chameleon husbandry was not keeping them alive, nor mating them, nor getting them to lay eggs. Hatching the eggs -- that was the problem. After incubating a dozen or more clutches (30 to 70 eggs per clutch) and getting perhaps 15 viable young, we decided we weren't cut out for this business. Good thing I had a day job. D.


Blogger Pat said...

Good heavens, what exotic animals haven't been in your menagerie?

Three-legged scorpions? Fork-tailed lemurs? Abyssinian voodoo bats? Toads à l'Espagnol?

So far in my life I personally have owned one pet: my nameless betta fish. When I was but a lad, my family owned a dog, a series of cats (one of whom, Tuffy, had an unfortunate habit of sleeping in the car's engine in the wintertime; oddly enough, he was the second longest-lived of the cats that I can remember), and a clutch of guppies that became guppy soup when the aquarium's thermostat went south while we were away over a long weekend.

RIP, Hamachi.

7/29/2005 08:57:00 AM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

The question is: what do male chameleons think during sex?

7/29/2005 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Pat: here are some of the categories of pets we've never kept: salt water species, monitor lizards, crocs/gators or their smaller relatives. I've kept very few toads, and our frog experience is limited to a few species of darts. We've never kept birds, and our mammal experience is limited to cats, ferrets, degus, and a variety of rodents (AKA snake food).

Our invertebrate experience is fairly extensive: tarantulas (of course), scorpions, phasmids (sticks), centipedes, Madagascar hissing cockroaches. I'm probably forgetting a few.

Gabriele: Answer: NOW! NOW! NOW!

7/29/2005 11:38:00 AM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

Madagaskar hissing cockroaches? I mean, I've heard that some people have roaches in their houses, but as pets?

7/29/2005 12:14:00 PM  
Blogger Douglas Hoffman said...

Nope, they're food for Karen's forty tarantulas. They don't make good pets. They smell, and they make a racket during sex. (They hiss at each other something fierce.)

7/29/2005 02:50:00 PM  
Blogger Gabriele C. said...

You should rename your blog to "Everything you ever wanted to know about bug sex". :)

7/29/2005 02:57:00 PM  
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