Why do you have a chameleon in your shop?
Our pet chameleon is called Murloc! He lives here as it’s our fundamental aim is to inspire an appreciation for the natural world and provide an educational experience. We’re here to answer absolutely any questions you have about him. We believe in the power of fuelling obsessions: whether it’s a museum or zoo, or a chameleon living in a random shop on Hackney Road – we believe in fuelling the obsession of a child, so it stays with she/he throughout life. They perhaps go onto develop a stronger association with the natural sciences and biology, and work within the field to benefit the environment and conservation issues of our time. Scientists working within biology usually attribute their passion for animals due to exposure to animals as children, often in a zoo or nature reserve.
We chose a chameleon as we think they’ve evolved in a unique way; they are mesmerising to watch compared to other lizards. They have unique feet, the five toes are fused into a group of two and a group of three, giving the foot a tongs-like appearance. Their eyes are also the most distinctive among the reptiles. The upper and lower eyelids are joined, with only a pinhole large enough for the pupil to see through. They can rotate and focus separately to observe two different objects simultaneously; their eyes move independently from each other. It in effect gives them a full 360-degree arc of vision around their bodies. A fascinating creature!
Where did you get Murloc from?
Murloc isn’t a ‘wild’ animal, and it would be illegal and unethical to source an exotic animal by taking it from his natural habitat. He was obtained at three months old from a breeder in London and born into captivity, thus a domesticated animal. Wild and domesticated animals behave differently, and it can be assumed that each respectively would be unsuited to living in each other’s habitats. However, they have the same needs as they would in the wild, so their environmental and dietary needs can be challenging, as we need to replicate what he'd eat in the wild.
Does he change colour? I think I saw him go greener.
This is probably the biggest misconception about chameleons. They do not radically switch their colour to blend in or camouflage with their environment, and if you have seen videos on Youtube with a chameleon walking over patches of colour, or with their background changing colour, with the lizard then changing colour – these are fake.
Every chameleon (there are over 160 different species) has it’s own unique colouration. They can brighten or darken their coloration depending on the temperature, light and mood. A chameleon will brighten or darken its colour to adjust its body temperature to that of their habitat's temperature. A colder chameleon will turn darker to absorb more heat, while a warmer chameleon will turn lighter in shade in order to reflect the heat from its body.
The change of colour in a chameleon can also indicate what his mood is like. A stressed or threatened chameleon will have a darker colour, whereas a chameleon in a relaxed mood will have a much lighter colour. If a species has a lot of different colours, it can also bring certain colours out more than others. The colour-switching myth may have started with observers in the wild seeing that a chameleon went darker whilst threatened, thus camouflaging into darker foliage and/or a shadow.
How do you care for him?
Murloc lives in our shop 24/7. This might seem strange, but like with zoos – zookeepers don't take their animals home with them every night. This is the most viable and ethical option for him. We come into the shop every single day, and we are here during his waking hours. When the shop closes, the two vivarium lights go off (and on) automatically and the chameleon goes to sleep – they need at least 12 hours of darkness a day. And we also need to go home to eat and sleep! Then we are back in the morning and the cycle starts again; it would be unnecessary (and very bad) to constantly shift his habitat around – routine is key for a happy and healthy chameleon, and no pet really needs 24/7 supervision. The lights and routine are extremely important for a cold-blooded creature; they emulate sunlight and heat. One bulb (UVB) is critical to the formation of vitamin D3 in the skin of reptiles; whilst the other bulb provides the necessary heat to survive. His basking spot needs to be around 30 degrees celsius.
In the mornings we mist his vivarium and feed Murloc. We usually feed him crickets, which provide protein, and they are always dusted with calcium powder, as they lack this vitamin. We occasionally feed him locusts and wax-worms too. It's best to feed live food (available from any good pet shop) as it's difficult for chameleons to identify still insects as food. We mist his vivarium at least 3 times a day, as panther chameleons enjoy humidity – the environment mustn't be too dry. The water sprayed also provides drinking water – the water droplets he licks off the leaves. Again, if a container of water was inside, he wouldn't identify it as water, as the surface would be still and not water in his eyes.
What species is he – is he not rare, endangered or going extinct?
No. He is called a panther chameleon. And this specific sub-species is called a blue bar ambilobe panther chameleon; they are native to Madagascar and aren’t endangered in any sense, and its conservation status is marked as of ‘least concern’. They’re actually a very common variety of chameleon, as well as being hardy, suited to slight fluctuations in the environment.
Why is he alone, is he not lonely? Get him a friend.
Murloc is not lonely as the panther chameleon spends the majority of its life in isolation, apart from mating sessions. In the wild, this species of chameleon is very territorial and does not like contact with other chameleons. When two males come into contact, they will change colour and inflate their bodies, attempting to assert their dominance.
There might a temptation to compare the solitary lizard to human needs, but this would be wrong as chameleons are obviously different creatures and over the course of hundreds of thousands years of evolution, haven't evolved the need to be social animals.
Is it fair though – is he happy?
Yes. We understand some might feel it is ‘unnatural’ to keep an animal in an enclosure. But pet-keeping itself is a quintessentially ancient practice that stretches back at least ten millennial, well before human’s started domesticating animals – we know this from archaeological evidence. We believe those that have a history of pet-keeping generally have a much better understanding of animal welfare, being able to naturally tell the signs of a healthy or unhealthy animal. We take incredible care of Murloc's environment, having throughly researched adequate sized vivariums, cleaning it regularly and so forth.
We know Murloc is not in any distress or threatened in any way. It isn’t ‘cruel’ (as a minority of extreme animal rights activists believe), as this definition means wilfully causing pain or distress to something whether it be a human or animal. If the lizard was in distress (or pain) he would behave differently: chameleon’s turn an abnormally dark colouration, they live in their environment lower down, they might be hiding, and they wouldn’t be eating. We also get him out to explore at least once a day – he is very used to being handled and used to human contact, and not threatened or stressed by humans. If you visit Murloc during the morning or early afternoon, you’d see he is surprisingly active, crawling around on the branches, and comes close to the glass.
We believe in continuing this human-animal bond, which may be hard-wired into human evolution; our innate need to be closer with animals and the natural world is something we encourage. Not everyone is privileged enough to see a chameleon in the wild, so we believe we're playing an important role with allowing you to see an exotic animal up close in person. We are not animal mind-readers of course, but all in all, the evidence indicates Murloc is very happy!
Is Murloc famous?
Perhaps. There has been no scientific survey done on the subject matter, but judging from anecdotal evidence – we can say with a pinch of salt that Murloc may be the most famous chameleon in London. You can follow Murloc on Instagram: @petmurloc