Chameleons in mythology

Chameleons in mythology

General topics Newspaper articles

With its independently moving eyes, shooting tongue and ability to change colour, the chameleon was already the subject of superstition and myths in ancient times – and has remained so in many places to this day. An article now published by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Böhme and natural historian Thore Koppetsch deals with precisely this topic.

The content ranges from the so-called Brooklyn Papyrus, which described a still unexplained “colour-changing” creature of antiquity, to bizarre events involving mother’s milk and chameleons in the Gambia of our time. Probably the oldest written record of a chameleon comes from Greece, from Aristotle himself, who lived from 384 to 322 BC. The term chameleon itself probably goes back to the Greek: chamai and leon were put together to form “earth lion”. However, this interpretation of the origin of the word is not entirely undisputed. The article also deals with superstitions on the island of Samos, in Morocco, Tunisia, Togo, Benin, Cameroon and Madagascar, and the use of chameleons for pseudo-medicine and occultism.

Chamäleons in der Mythologie der Völker
Wolfgang Böhme, Thore Koppetsch
Koenigiana 17, 2023, pp. 39-50
DOI: nicht vorhanden

Oddity: Use of chameleon powder in Algeria

Oddity: Use of chameleon powder in Algeria

General topics

Dried bodies of Chamaeleo chamaeleon have always been used in traditional medicine in Algeria. In the El Oued region, extracts and powders from common chameleons are still regularly used today for the therapy of various diseases and various superstitions. An Algerian biochemist has now tried to prove the benefits of chameleon powder in a somewhat curious way.

Allegedly exactly 1000 users of the powder as well as 100 hunters and sellers were questioned for a maximum of 10 to 15 minutes by means of questionnaires or interviews. The evaluation of these was not published. However, the author states that according to the interviews, chameleons are only hunted by “experienced persons”. However, the breeding season is left out, so no damage to the chameleon population is to be feared.

In addition, an unspecified number of wild Chamaeleo chamaeleon were captured and killed in Algeria. The organs were removed, the chameleons washed, salted and dried at 35 to 40°C for over a week. The dried bodies were then washed again and re-dried in an oven at 45°C. The chameleons were then killed using mice. Then the chameleons were ground using a mortar to obtain powder. Dry matter, ph values, protein, carbohydrate, fat, calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and ash contents of the powder were examined. A relatively high phosphorus content of 14.01% stood out, and traces of iron, zinc and copper were also detected. A relatively high concentration of vitamin E (19.23 mg/100 g powder) was noticed, as well as vitamin B1 (21 mg/100 g powder). Under laboratory conditions, the powder proved capable of scavenging radicals. Also in the laboratory, the powder as an extract at 100 mg/ml showed some efficacy against various bacteria. In a chicken chorioallantoic membrane (CAM) assay, angiogenesis was tested around a powder disc inserted into a fertilised chicken egg.

Several groups of laboratory rats were treated with carbimazole in the drinking water. Afterwards, one group was freely injected into the abdomen with a solution containing chameleon powder, one group was fed chameleon powder in various mixtures, another was given levothyroxine in the drinking water, another nothing at all and a final group was injected with water in the abdomen. After the experimental period, blood was taken and then all the rats were killed and dissected. The rats showed no reaction to the chameleon powder, while treatment with levothyroxine, not surprisingly, resulted in various changes in blood count and blood chemistry.

The author interestingly concludes from all these experiments that the use of dried chameleon powder is safe for use in humans and can treat tonsillitis, coughs, skin diseases such as vitiligo, scorpion stings, urinary tract infections, leukaemia (!) as well as thyroid diseases. However, none of his studies provides any proof of this and so this “study” remains more of an absurd curiosity.

Physicochemical composition and evaluation of biological activities of Chamaeleo chamaeleon
Ouafa Boudebia
Thesis TD571/007/01 der Universität von Eloued, 2023
DOI:  none

Chamaeleo dilepis in traditional south african medicine

Chamaeleo dilepis in traditional south african medicine


Researchers from North-West University in South Africa have investigated which reptiles are used by traditional healers and how much they actually know about the species used. They visited six medical shops and markets (muthi shops/markets) in Polokwane, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Pietermaritzburg and Durban. Twelve traditional healers were also visited, two each in Limpopo and Gautend and seven in KwaZulu-Natal. Healers who agreed to be interviewed were asked about the species and origin of reptiles they use. Samples were taken for genetic testing from 111 carcasses and tissue remains (some only bones with meat remains) offered for sale.

Of the 34 reptile species known so far from the literature to have been traditionally used in South African medicine, nine could be confirmed. The healers reported that they partly hunted the reptiles themselves and partly bought them from specialised hunters. To the astonishment of the researchers, reptiles killed in road traffic (“roadkills”) were also used by healers. For sale and use, the reptiles were preserved. Fat and internal organs were removed manually. The fat was kept in bottles as it could be sold individually. The organs were not used further. The carcasses of the reptiles were then rubbed with ash and salt and dried in the sun. All healers agreed that whole carcasses were rarely sold – usually customers only wanted to purchase certain body parts, as only these were known for their effects.

The flap-necked chameleon was already known to be an occasional species at traditional South African healer markets. Several Chamaeleo dilepis were also identified in this study, but they were only marketed with an umbrella term in isiZulu. Unwabu refers to any species of chameleon, not specifically Chamaeleo dilepis. For other reptile species, some of the healers’ names matched the identified species down to the species level. However, there were also quite a few misidentified specimens where completely different reptiles were identified by the healers than turned out to be the case in the genetics.

Barcoding and traditional health practitioner perspectives are informative to monitor and conserve frogs and reptiles traded for traditional medicine in urban South Africa
Fortunate Phaka, Edward Netherlands, Maarten van Steenberge, Erik Verheyen, Gontran Sonet, Jean Hugé, Louis du Preez, Maarten Vanhove
Molecular Ecology Resources [Preprint], 2022
DOI: 10.22541/au.166487945.53921162/v1