Chameleon Man : His Women, His Journey

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That is critical, says herpetologist Ian Stephen at the Zoological Society of London, to enable the tongue to stick to the prey rather than send it flying. When the tongue is at full stretch, a concertina-like muscle is used to rein it back in again, hopefully with dinner in its grasp. A motor keeps tension on the apparatus, giving the magnet a light touch on the target. To improve accuracy, Debray has fitted small wings to the magnet to keep it aloft longer on its journey. A computer vision system that would allow his magnet to find its target is also in development, as is a gripper to grasp objects.

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Having witnessed chameleons at work, Stephen thinks the manipulator has some way to go. How will they judge distances? But then my teenage daughter asked for a crested gecko three years ago and Sabine, as she was immediately christened, turned out to be utterly charming.


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Originally hailing from New Caledonia in the Pacific, crested geckos are sweet, lively and active in the evenings; my daughter takes Sabine out when she clamours at the front of her glass tank, and lets her leap about the bedsheets, hunting imaginary crickets. I thought we were done, but it transpired that little Sabine was a gateway reptile; every time we visited the specialist shop where we bought her, my husband was transfixed by the chameleons.

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M ales are far more colourful than females, who tend to be drab and don't live long after breeding, which is physically arduous for them. With Cornelius we struck gold.

Or at least bright green, red and white, running to dark maroon if he's not happy. Contrary to popular belief he doesn't change according to the background; but given our sitting room is Chinese green, he blends in a bit too well. Like the time we "lost" him for three hours only to discover him watching us from on top of the bookcase.

He lives in a mesh-sided cage, with a heat lamp, fake foliage the living stuff kept dying and real branches for him to climb. Chameleons hail from Madagascar - although Cornelius was bred in Wales - where it is humid, so he has a water dripper and we also mist the cage regularly with a plant sprayer - to remind him of Cardiff.

Chameleon Man: His Women, His Journey

He eats live food; locusts, crickets, cockroaches and worms. And best of all you can watch him because he's diurnal, which means he's awake all day. Initially we weren't sure how tame he would become, but we needn't have worried. We handled him from the beginning and now, as soon as we open his cage he will run straight on to my outstretched hand and up my arm, his toes and tail clasping me tight.

I f he isn't interested in attention he will turn his back, to show he wants to be left alone, which typically happens during periods of moulting, when he turns a ghostly white as the top layer of his skin dries before shedding. As well as being less sociable he's less hungry around then too, which is a shame as there are few greater parlour entertainments than the sight of his long and sticky green tongue whipping out of his mouth to land on a locust.

The neighbours love to watch; hence the consternation over his escape.

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I usually let him out of his cage for a few hours daily and he has free run of the sitting room. Some days he is content to lurk in the foliage of the indoor pachira we bought for him at Ikea. On other occasions he will climb down and go walkabout; the dogs got the fright of their lives the first time they encountered him on the floor, not least because he went postbox red and puffed up his body, hissing at them.

Although chameleons are solitary, Cornie lent Christmas a karmic calm. He'd race across the floor to climb the tree and would stay there all day if he could, stock still among the twinkling lights, save for his eyes, moving independently in different directions.

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W e adore him, obviously. Does he adore us back? That would be overstating it, but after our summer holiday, when he boarded at a place called the Reptile Ranch, he launched himself at the children as soon as they opened the door, climbed on to Tabitha's head and radiated the bright colours of contentment, white stripes and all.