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.