Open letter to Chameleon forums

toungeshooter

New Member
Hello my fellow chameleon fanatics! Like most of you, I came to this site looking for like-minded individuals who share my passion, fascination, and obsession with the most amazing animal on the face of the earth. Well I found what I was looking for, and then some! Being a new member to this site, or “neonate”, I thought I might introduce myself and tell you a little bit about my history with Chameleons.
Now… before I get started, I would like to apologize in advance for going into too much detail or rambling on like a lunatic. However, it is my hope that if you are a member of Chameleon Forums, then you are already along for the ride. So please be patient with me while I get this story out of my head, and I promise that my next post will be shorter.
To properly tell my story we have to take a trip to the past. So strap yourself in, as we travel back down the corridors of time. To a land before cell phones and the internet, or even pc’s for the most part. To a special place, where things like ketchup flavored chips and Justin Bieber didn’t even exist. Our destination is the year 1980…………..As the blurry lines resolve, two figures begin to take shape. A boy and his grandma.
It was a special day. Not just because it was a beautiful, July day in southern California. It was a special day because my Grandma had promised to buy me a pet! This meant a trip to Santa Paula, as my hometown of Fillmore was too small for a pet shop. During the short drive (it was only ten miles or so, but I promise you that to an eight year old it felt like an eternity) I had time to fantasize about what I would be bringing home with me. Now at that time pet shops weren’t all that fancy. There were no super mega pet stores. In fact almost all of them were mom and pop type operations. Which was great because they were always run by someone who loved animals, or at the very least someone whose life had become so overrun by their animals, that their only real option was to open a pet store. The animals at a typical pet store usually came in five different flavors. Small rodents, parakeets, turtles, baby green iguanas, and maybe a few snakes. I remember seeing rosy boas all the time back then.
Little did I know that I was about to stumble upon an enigma. A mystery that would confound me for years to come! As we entered the pet shop, we were greeted by the familiar smells. The semi-dank smell of aquarium water, the scent of fresh pine bedding in the hamster cages. A smell that to this day I both hate and love. I remember the unpainted concrete floor, and the flickering neon lights. A large terrarium caught my eye. Inside were about 20 baby iguanas. Five of them were stacked up on each other’s backs from biggest to smallest like some bizarre reptilian nesting dolls. “Let’s see what’s over here.” Grandma said as she led me to the back of the store amongst the canaries and finches. She was trying to steer me into getting a bird or hamster, however I was determined to get a something else.
I don’t remember at what age I started catching lizards, but by eight years old I was already a world class, master lizard catcher. I spent my summers in the hills and riverbeds, where I would capture anything I could. There wasn’t a blue belly (western fence lizard), or alligator lizard I couldn’t catch. I have always been intrigued by reptiles, maybe because they are the closest analog to dinosaurs, which I also love. Something about reptiles just pulled me in. We made our way around the small shop, pausing for a moment to look at the fish. I always loved watching the little treasure chest open and close, and of course the scuba diver. Past a giant tank brimming with turtles. We were making our way back to the front of the store when something caught my eye. There was a birdcage above the cash register, but I was too short to really see what was in it. Something was inside the cage, but it was most definitely not a bird. Something was moving, a bunch of something’s in fact, and they were green! Seeing my interest, my grandma asked “What are those?” pointing to the cage above the counter, barely hiding the disgust in her voice. My Grandma was never a big fan of lizards, but she tolerated them because I loved them so much. Whereas my mother was deathly afraid of any reptile. In fact the only time I ever heard my mom drop the f-bomb was when my brother brought home a water snake he caught, and it had about 35 babies in the tank we put it in. When we took the lid off, all of them tried to escape, and some of them made it. That was a fun day. “Oh these are cool! Check this out kid.” The guy behind the counter said as he lowered the cage and reached inside. What he pulled out exploded my tiny brain into a million pieces. I had never seen anything like it before in my life. It was light green with yellow spines going down its back. Its tail, coiled like a spring. Pincher like feet, and turreted eyes. As if this animal couldn’t be any wilder, it went ahead and turned up the dial to 11 by having three horns on its head! Just like a triceratops! I stood dumbfounded, still unable to wrap my head around what I was seeing. “Is… it… a dinosaur?” I asked feebly. “No. This I a Chameleon!” He said. I knew right away that I had to have one. It was everything that I ever wanted! “Please!!” I said, squeezing my Grandmothers hand. “I guess we’ll take one of those. What do they ea…?” But before she could finish her question the young man interrupted. “Oh, well…I don’t know if these are for sale…I’d have to talk to the manager.” Putting the cage up, he disappeared into the tiny back office. Almost immediately he re-emerged, looking ashamed, eyes downcast. He was followed by a red faced, clearly frustrated older man. “These aren’t for sale.” He said it with such authority, and such finality that I burst out crying. “Now listen here!” my Grandma started in. “This young man here showed us these animals, so why won’t you sell us one? You have more than enough.” It was true, there were at least a dozen of them in that bird cage. But as they argued it was clear that the man wouldn’t budge, and the longer my Grandma argued with him, the more frustrated and nervous he seemed to become. Finally, the man offered to give me a free turtle if we would just leave. My Grandma agreed, and after a short speech about the dangers of salmonella, we were shown the door. As I walked to the car holding my new silver dollar sized red eared slider, the man offered up his final bit of advice. “Enjoy the turtle kid! Just don’t put it in your mouth.” I remember thinking “Why would I ever in a million years put a turtle in my mouth?” So we drove home with my new turtle “Gamera”, but I was still extremely disappointed. However that disappointment turned into bitter frustration over the next few days, because no one I tried to tell about the amazing lizard I saw would believe me. When I told my brother, he called me a liar. I had to get one so I could prove they were real. So after a month of begging my Grandma, she agreed to take me back to the pet shop, but we arrived to find that they had gone out of business. Once again I was defeated.
Time past and I went back to catching lizards in my back yard. I even begun to question my own memory. Did those lizards really have three horns? Was it just my imagination? Then in 1983 a movie came on television called “Willie Wonka and the chocolate factory”, that would prove (to me at least) that I wasn’t crazy. In the movie (spoiler alert!) the characters take a boat ride down a trippy tunnel, while various psychedelic images are displayed on the walls. Then, right near the end there is a shot of a Jackson’s chameleon eating a grasshopper. The shot is barely two seconds long, but it was long enough for me to recognize the animal I had seen years before! I was so excited, that I stood up and shouted. “There it is!” “That’s the thing I saw with Grandma!” But there was no one in the room. I finally had proof, but once again no one had seen it but me. Back then there were no DVR’s or pause buttons, or screen capture. VCR’s existed then, but we certainly didn’t have one. For the kids out there, a VCR is like a DVR that you had to put a rectangular CD in to record on.
My curiosity was fired up once again! I had to learn more about this animal, and I had to find out where I could get one! I decided to do some investigating. So I did the only thing I could… I went to the library! You see, before the internet, if you needed information, a person really only had two options. You had to either A) Ask somebody who had the knowledge you needed in their brain. Or B) Find the information you needed in a book, made out of paper. Unfortunately the library was no help. The only book they had on reptiles was “Time Life Reptiles”. A decent book, but it has no information about Chameleon’s. The Encyclopedia wasn’t much help either. Just a few lines describing the various traits that make the Chameleon unique, and an illustration that didn’t look like the Chams I had seen. I swear it seemed like the only pictures I could find of Chameleons were always a graceful, or European chameleon.
Pet stores were no help either. More often than not, it turned out that I was more of a reptile expert than the employees. I’ll give you a scenario that happened to me at least a hundred times, if not more.
I walk into a pet store. The employee greets me, and asks me what I’m looking for. I already know the answer, but I go ahead and ask anyway. “Do you have any Chameleons?” I inquire. “We sure do!” Then the employee would lead me to the reptile section of the store and show me a cage full of green Anoles. “Those aren’t Chameleons.” I would say. “Sure they are.” The kid would say “they change color and everything.” “No, those are Anoles! Real Chameleons have a prehensile tail, and can move their eyes independently.” I tried to be patient, knowing that Anoles were often sold as “Carolina Chameleons” in the pet trade. Thus the confusion. I even bought an anole once or twice, because it was the closest thing I could get to a Chameleon. After I listed another ten traits that differentiate Chameleons from Anoles, the employee would look at me blankly and say. “We don’t have any of those.” This happened to me so many different times. It was so frustrating, and it went on for years! I might as well have been asking for a unicorn, the looks I got. Occasionally I would find someone in a pet store who knew what I was talking about, but not very often.
Then, in the 1990’s, an amazing thing happened! A few Chameleons began to trickle into the market. I was working at a pet food store then, and I had just convinced the owner to start selling reptiles. (Wink!) So we made a trip down to California zoological supply co. to pick up a van full of reptiles. :) Unfortunately when we got there, the only Jackson’s Chameleon they had was a WC/ specimen, that didn’t look like it would last the week. So I decided to get a pair of healthy baby Calyptratus. They were wonderful, and beautiful, but I still wanted a Jackson’s. However the timing was never quite right. It seemed like when I was broke, Jackson’s were everywhere. When I had money and cage space, I couldn’t find them. I eventually added panthers, and carpets too, and bred them all, and loved every one of them, but I never got a Jackson’s. At least I finally had chameleons, even if they weren’t the right species.
In 1996 the most monumental event of my life took place, when my first child was born. It was not long afterward that I discovered that babies are an even more expensive, and time consuming hobby than Chameleons. For instance, did you know that it can take a human baby twenty years or more to reach adulthood? And I thought incubating panther eggs took patience and determination. I sold off, and scaled back my collection, until the only reptiles I had left were the Leopard geckos that my wife and I bought together when we were dating. (That’s how I got her into reptiles, with cute baby geckos) Currently I don’t have any Chameleons, and that’s ok. Until recently, I didn’t really have time for them. But lately I’ve been feeling that old familiar itch. I’ve found myself trolling kingsnake.com, and looking at cages on amazon. Once I found this site, it was all over for me! I’m now in the process of designing a cage, and buying plants. Getting everything sorted out ahead of time, so I can be ready to finally get a pair of jacksonii xantholophus! This site is such a fantastic resource! I’ve already gotten some great ideas! The D.I.Y. cricket cups are amazing, so brilliantly simple, and elegant! I only wish I had access to the forums all those years ago. It’s great to see the wonderful work of so many breeders, and it’s amazing how many new species are available. Back when I had Chams, you couldn’t get pygmy Chameleons, now they seem to be everywhere. I’m seriously considering getting a trio of brevicauda, after I get my Jackson’s of course.
Please let me know if you enjoyed my story, or had a similar experience. I would love to hear about it. I guess the point of my story is that once you let Chameleons into your heart, they never really leave. Their just hiding!

Thanks for listening
Brad
 

ponders

Chameleon Enthusiast
Great story! And story telling.

I had a very similar experience. Fell in love with a picture of a Johnstoni chameleon in the late 70s. Got anoles as a substitute, as that was the closest thing I could find at the time. In the 90s, I also started with baby veiled, moved on to a pair of Parsons.

I just recently acquired that Johnstoni I've wanted all these years!
 

toungeshooter

New Member
Fricken' Anoles!!!!.......LOL That's great about finally getting your Johnstoni. You should definitely post some pictures!
 

laurie

Retired Moderator
Welcome to our world Brad. You have finally came home.

I came to the hobby kicking and screaming. My older sister had kept reptiles for years. I hated them (can you say afraid). When I was visiting her for a week she had a sick dragon. She bullied me into holding it while she gave it a shot ever day. Fast forward several months, she was in CA visiting me. We went to a reptile show in Anaheim, just to make HER happy. I walk in and some guy stuck a large snake in my face. I almost had us kicked out as I kicked him in the crouch. He dropped the snake, and the fun was on. Later that day I bought the tiniest bearded dragon I had ever seen. I could handle a reptile who was barely 3".

I lived in Mission viejo, so I got in the habit of driving to Oceanside to LLL reptile, just to get food and supplies for my dragon, Max. I liked looking at the animals, all safe in their cages. As time went on I got to know most of the staff, and when I was really taken by a reptile, they would offer I could hold it. I held lots of kinds, i had several dragons, uromastix, and geckos. i looked at chams but had not decided how I felt about them. But they were beautiful, and unique. One of the guys there hooked me into them by having me hold a panther. I was going to the show in San Diego with my husband, and stopped by LLL's booth. John yells out, Laurie I have your cham over here under the table. I am thinking What cham?? We go over and John hands me a small deli cup with a very small panther. I am trying to figure out what to do what David pays John and off we go. I now owner Cammie. I had that cham for several months before I figured out I had a male, I just assumed she was female. When we moved from Mission Viejo to Montana, a large group of chameleons made the trip with us. I have never looked back and never been without chams since Cammie came to me.
 

ponders

Chameleon Enthusiast

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FlChamMom

Avid Member
That was an awesome story. I was never into anything without fur growing up, my son however was into lizards as a teen. We got a panther chameleon together when he was 16 as a hobby we could do together. The cham, Jimi, was beautiful but mean as a snake. At that time I was also afraid of bugs- you wouldn't believe the contraptions I created to get crickets from the bin into the cage. Little sucker wormed his way into my heart though. Fast forward 5 years, son moved out, chamless and I now have 3. :) I can also free-hand a dubia no problem...

I too love the Jackson's and Jonstoni but alas, in the one room I am allowed by my family to indulge in my hobby (room on the 3rd floor by the attic) I can't get the temps right in the summer for the montaine species.
 

GCash

Avid Member
Grandmas are awesome! I remember seeing my very first chameleon around '89. Went into a pet store like you mentioned, one of ones that you never know what you might see. Not like the chains that have a set formula of what they carry to maximize profits like today. In a mysterious 10 gallon with so much condensation on the glass you could barely see in(I know, right? We've come a long way.) but once i got a peek, there sat a flap-necked chameleon with a $125 price tag. Oh nooooo! Needless to say, My Grandmother wasn't prepared to drop that kind of dough on a lizard that day and I had to walk out. As bummed as a kid could be. She must have sensed how deep my fascination with them went and took me back the following weekend after she got paid and bought me the best early birthday present I can remember. If you think a 10 min. car trip was long, its amazing how long that week seemed to last, especially compared to current perception of time where the week is gone with a blink of the eye. I was so afraid he'd be gone by the following weekend when we could make the 2hr trip to that pet shop that had the magical creatures. I don't think my Grandmother could have ever thought she was kindling a passion that would remain with me throughout my entire life and driving me to commit, focus and learn as much as I could about them(and any other subject I wanted to put my mind to). It truly was a pivotal moment that shaped me as the person I am today. She was the Greatest.
 

Carlton

Chameleon Enthusiast
Fast forward several months, she was in CA visiting me. We went to a reptile show in Anaheim. I walk in and some guy stuck a large snake in my face. I almost had us kicked out as I kicked him in the crouch. He dropped the snake, and the fun was on.

You did? Served that jerk right! I wish I'd been a cricket on the wall! :D

I used to work at a rather bedraggled herp specialty shop (the place wasn't fancy or attractively decorated, but the staff was knowledgeable, caring, and worked hard) with occasional built-in surprises. An escape artist monitor that preferred the HVAC system...you never knew when or where it would leap out and give you heart failure. Occasional signs in the workroom describing where that loose python was last seen. Every winter they assembled a heavy wooden partition in a corner to board a local's pair of huge sulcata tortoises. Sometimes the tortoises decided to leave their stall and work after hours re-arranging store furniture This place had a special wheelbarrow for the big snakes people wanted to get rid of. They always managed to find homes for them. If someone came in to dump a neglected herp they would get a severe tongue lashing before being allowed to escape.
 

Carlton

Chameleon Enthusiast
Saw my first cham when I was about 10 at a large garden center. They had a jackson's in the greenhouse. To this day I can still see its exact image and where it tended to hang out.

Unfortunately, after telling me the cham was fragile and not the pet for me, they sold me a horned lizard and a cup of mealworms it would never eat. Poor thing took weeks to starve, our house ended up crawling with beetles, and I have felt terribly guilty about that poor lizard ever since.
 
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