Autoregulation Myth Unleashed

30/09/2019

Aka

Why the belief "the chameleon can auto-regulate, It knows the best what is good for it and what not" is an absolutely misleading nonsense...

Aka
Why chameleons can overheat, overeat and over-hydrate?

Evolution is a fantastic process. It makes some individuals and entities survive and get stronger and it makes some to become extinct.

Evolution makes animals able to adapt to environment and its vital and lethal factors and get more efficient, faster, bigger, thinner, tinier, stronger, invisible etc etc all in dependence from what is really the winning-formula in the defined time and set of surrounding factors.

It works fantastic. And, it has a great limitation.
It can fix a feature/trait and a regulation mechanism ONLY IF IT WAS EXPOSED TO A ENVIRONMENTAL FACTOR INFLUENCING IT.
It is blind towards future, it can not foresee, it can not prepare deliberately and purposefully any organism, any evolutionary lineage to anything unknown, what will happen only in the future...

Let us take and example.
A hare becomes white. If the surrounding is white, this white color gives him an advantage to be better camouflaged than a brown one so that it becomes less likely that it will be seen by predators, found and eaten. Therefore, it can transfer its genes to next generations and the white advantageous coloration (if genes can determine it) will become more and more frequent in his descendants until, thanks a mechanism known as "genetic drift", it becomes the prevailing or even only color in the population in the future, conditioned, the conditions will not change and the white will remain advantageous towards predators.
But if the environment changes to e.g. black, the white color becomes disadvantageous and they can not hide, as the Mother Nature never met a black environment so that it was not able to "prepare" the white hare for that circumstances. On black, the white will become disadvantageous, they will not be able to blend with the environment, they will be found and caught and eaten and possibly eradicated. They will sit in black environment as if it would be white and get eaten.

Same is with chameleons.
The montane species are used to live in cold environment for millions of years. The skies are almost always covered with clouds, they get only several occasions in a day to bask for 1-2 minutes, when there is an opening in the clouds and sunshine penetrates them. They seek therefore every single second, when they can bask to utilize it. They follow a program: "Opportunity to bask: bask every second possible!" This is their winning formula for millions of years. They can not overheat, as they sit in cold
weather and the sunshine
never lasts for too long. They have not developed any regulation mechanisms how to protect themselves against overheating, as this had never happened in the wild.
So, there is no advantage in higher survival rate for those that can regulate, because this never happens.

So,
What happens if they are in captivity exposed to high temperatures and 12h hot basking lamp?
They follow their inner programming like a robot: "Opportunity to bask: bask every second possible!".
And they bask, bask, bask, bask...
until they die.
It is just a matter of time.
They are not stupid.
They have not learned to protect themselves against overheating, as they have never been exposed to this situation...

Same applies for the so
often burnt casques of the Yemen chameleons. They get never a burnt casque if they bask in the wild, as the sun is too far to burn it. The intensity of heat beams reduce with the square of the distance from the source. The Sun is 150 millions of kilometers far. One meter or 20 centimeters does not make a difference for such a distant source. But if the temperature is 30'C at
20cm distance from the basking lamp, it is 120'C at 10cm and 480'C at 5cm. They Do Not have any mechanism to protect themselves from such heat sources, as there are no sources like that in the wild. So, they get too close and burn themselves.

Same with overeating: species that live in an environment providing them with small flying insects only, can never overeat in the wild, they merely feed themselves to survive. So, their program is: "Eat as much as possible". And they do so.
Now, what happens if we increase the abundance of the food and even provide such energetic bomb like beetle larvae and wax-moth caterpillars?
They follow their programming and eat as much as they can.
They can not stop.
They stop only when their stomach is absolutely full.
As a result, they overfeed. They get fat.
They destroy internal organs such as liver and kidneys.
They suffer.
They die.

Chameleons can show in the captivity an affinity to certain type of food. And we think: they like it...
But it is like with a child and an ice cream. Of course children like ice cream. But is it good for them to eat it much and every day?
No! It is not!
Give a chameleon unlimited worms and some will eat so
much that they will vomit next day or in an hour.
Or they get constipated.
And they get sick.
And they die.

What about water?
The same picture. There is
Almost never ever in the wild a water stream.
So, they can drink licking tiny droplets (if at all).
They can not over drink. There is not enough water to do so.
Never ever for many species.
Or only occasionally, for some.
If you give them a stream of water running across their mouth tip and even covering nostrils,
they reflexively swallow
and swallow
and swallow
and swallow
and over-hydrate.
They take much more water than necessary.
And they get health problems.

Chameleons can not regulate many of the excesses of their vital factors, for which they have to fight hard in the wild. And we can kill them with our care: providing them too few as well as TOO MUCH:
too much heat
too much food
too much water
too much humidity
too much vitamins
too much supplements
too much UV
too much of whatever.

So, what to do?

1. We need to know their natural environment to every tiny detail to know what are its vital and lethal factors
2. We need to simulate the vital factors in a balanced natural way
3. We need to closely monitor their behavior and fitness and adjust their conditions accordingly
4. We need to regulate for them and do not rely on their ability to regulate

It is a big deal of responsibility we must take if we take the liberty to enslave them...

Author: Petr Nečas