Friday, September 16, 2011


This is a detail of a work in progress. In the laboratory of my studio and my blog, painting ideas come and go. Some reach completion, others don't, and the verdict is still out on this one.

I hope I can pull it off. Were I given the resources, I feel that I could edit and publish a real-life magazine of the same name (chameleon-lover, and a file on chameleons, the animal that is little understood.

The mythology of chameleons in the popular culture is that they change colors to suit their environment. This is largely true, but just the beginning of their wonderment. They also change colors to communicate: in order to affect their environment.

Just as fascinating is their personality--their human-like moods. And their sight is perhaps the keenest ever developed on this planet by any animal. In comparison to them, poor humans are as blind as dogs. Sharp-sighted hawks or cats? Poor souls are they, nearly holding white canes in comparison to the chameleon, who sees colors vividly, as well as the outline of a fly, leagues away.

Fascinating as these attributes are, they are limited subjects if one moves on to philosophical and existential questions that the chameleon opens. They are supposed to be primitive animals; reptiles, are they not? How could it be that they dream? Well, they do--easily seen by their rapid-eye-movements in sleep.  As far as I know, other reptiles are not known to dream.

Their postures and attitudes often seem uncannily human, or hominid. I believe this is an example of parallel evolution. Though humans and chameleons are not related other than in the very distant past
( in the same way that any vertibrate is related), they seem  more closely related to us. Their kind took an evolutionary journey that matches our own in two very important parts: (1.) they chose trees as their home, and (2.) they chose sight as their sense.

Primates took to the trees, needing prehensile hands to grasp branches. Same with chameleons, which have tight-clasping hands and tail. (The ground-dwelling choice, which the likes of baboons and hominids took, is late in the game, a few drops in the bucket of evolutionary time; the bulk of our primate ancestors bid their time in the trees, as most of our cousins still do.)

Our brains and attitudes are due to sight being our sense. Some estimates put it that 80% of our sensory stimulus is visual. For chameleons it must be at least that; they are, in fact, deaf, without ears. (They can, however feel vibrations, and even make vibrations to communicate through the jungle telegraph of tree branches.) Chameleons have stereoscopic vision, like us (and unlike all other reptiles, and most mammals.) Because they are so sight-oriented, they appear hyper-aware and nervous, always vigilant. They are very different from a lethargic snake, for instance. It is uncanny when they look at you directly with both eyes, which work a dissonance on your mind.

Just think about life on other planets. We are finding new Goldilocks planets every day, in regions of space remote, but not hideously far across the cosmos. Imagine encountering extraterrestrials that also chose the twin paths of trees and sight early in their evolution. Which type would be the one that reached for technology first: the reptilian one or the hairy one?


  1. R, I wasn't aware of the sharp vision of the chameleon. RE: the Keith Thomson slogan, "Stick to the man who sticks to the job," in your other entry, that's as ironic as the name of the plane, the "Galloping Ghost," that just took out a bunch of people at that air race/ show in Reno. J.

  2. Great info about chameleons there, Roman! Thanks! The video is also cool:-)