World’s largest chameleon hatches for first time in UK after 569 days of incubation

The world’s largest chameleon has been successfully bred at Chester Zoo for the first time in the UK. The zoo has welcomed into the world a fleet of tiny cubs with big shoes to fill. The Parson’s chameleon has the longest incubation time of any reptile in the world, cooking for about 600 days. So far only 10 of the clutch have hatched, but another 17 remain in the incubator.

Parson’s Chameleon (Calumma parsonii) is native to Madagascar, where these animals roam the wild reaching over half a meter in length and weighing around 700 grams (1.5 pounds). For comparison, small babies currently weigh 1.5 grams (0.05 ounces). In his adult form he has been compared to Pinocchio for the rather large snout he develops in later life.

The actual baby boom is described as a major event by the zookeepers, who during the incubation of the eggs developed many skills to keep the reptile eggs viable for such a long time. It’s possible that what they learned will help save many endangered species beyond Parson’s chameleon.

“The levels of intricate care and attention to detail provided by the team over a number of years to achieve this breeding success was truly remarkable,” said Jay Redbond, Team Manager of Reptiles at Chester Zoo in a statement sent to IFLScience.

“We had to carefully replicate the seasonal variations of Madagascar and mimic the exact same conditions that these chameleons experience on the island, here in Chester, and that’s no easy feat. Every little change in temperature and humidity each day and night has been meticulously recorded, and now that we’ve done that, we think we’ll be able to take that information and apply it to help save some of Madagascar’s other endangered reptile species. “

In Madagascar, the Parson’s chameleon population has declined by more than 20 percent over the past two decades due to habitat loss in the region. Deforestation has seen the once dense forest in which these animals live reduced to sparse and fragmented habitats, threatening their survival.

The most precious of tail twists. Image credit: Chester Zoo

“Our teams are currently on the ground in Madagascar, together with our partners Madagasikara Voakajy, fighting to protect what is left of the island’s beautiful forests and the species that call it home,” said Gerardo Garcia, Curator of Lower Vertebrates & Invertebrates.

“Extensive deforestation on the island has resulted in more than 90% of its trees being cut down for agriculture and logging – taking with it hundreds of valuable species that can’t be found anywhere else on Earth, just like Parson’s chameleon.

“That’s why we need to learn as much as we can, as quickly as we can to prevent species from going extinct. These new hatchlings may be small in stature for now, but their impact will be huge in helping us accelerate our efforts to save some of Madagascar’s rarest reptiles.”

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