While the familiar Green anole, often seen in local gardens, may be called the “American Chameleon”, it is actually related to iguanas and basilisks. True chameleons are an entirely Old World family. Of the 160 or so species, about half are native to Madagascar. While difficult to maintain, with proper care the Panther chameleon, from Madagascar’s tropical forests, does well in captivity. Its especially brilliant and variable colors make it popular with reptile breeders and zoos. Males can grow to 20 inches in length.
This beautiful snake is found in the rainforests across a large area of South America. Unlike its more famous relatives, the Boa constrictor and the Anaconda, it only reaches a length of about six feet. It has the longest fangs in proportion to its size of any living snake. Females give birth to as many as 20 young, which do not attain their bright green color until they are around nine months old. Until then, they are orange or dark red. In recent years it has been regularly bred in captivity.
Exceeding 20 feet in length and 300 pounds in weight, this famous South American snake is by far the largest of the boas, and is the heaviest of the world’s snakes (the Reticulated python from Asia may grow slightly longer). Anacondas give birth to live young, usually 20 to 40 at a time. With their eyes near the top and end of their heads, they are adapted to an aquatic environment, and most of their prey is taken in or near water. At the DWA, they are fed rats. The largest specimen here is 14 feet long.
Named for a mythical crowned serpent, basilisks are specialized iguana relatives from Central and South America. They are capable of running on their hind legs so quickly that they can cross water without sinking. The ornate crest on the head is actually an extension of the skull. This species is found from Belize to Colombia, and is also now one of the many reptiles that have become feral in Florida.
In North America, the Teiid family of lizards is represented by rather small racerunners and whiptails, which have the appearance of “typical lizards”. In South America, Teiids occur in much greater variety. One of the most specialized is the semi-aquatic Caiman lizard, named for its crocodilian-like scales. Growing up to four feet long, often with a bright orange head contrasting with a greenish body, it might present a ferocious appearance. Its diet, however, consists almost entirely of snails, which it crushes with enormous molar-like teeth.