‘Babe, Wake Up. Someone Found a Chameleon in San Francisco’

The large, Malagasy lizard was spotted when longtime SF resident Seth Lowe was walking his senior dog.

Chameleons are incredibly fragile, finicky creatures. Though they’re common sights in pet stores and private collections, the lizards, with some species measuring the size of a human’s forearm, are easily stressed. And can quickly die from paralyzing amounts of cortisol and lactic acid produced when they’re feeling overwhelmed. On top of this, most of the examples we see are wild-caught individuals — rife with parasites and still carrying a “fuck off, large upright ape” energy when they arrive at far-flung shipping ports.

Even those examples bred in captivity need specific lighting requirements; artificial temperature gradients; crickets and roaches dusted with vitamin powders; specifically sized branches for them to grab onto for extended periods of time.

All of this is to say that these eminent ectotherms — (that, contrary to popular belief, change their epidermal colors to match their current moods, not their immediate environments) — would not fare well wandering around San Francisco. In fact, it would be a near-certain death sentence.

Nevertheless, one such lizard was found ambling around SF Friday, July 23rd. Moreover: It was *crossing the street* when it was discovered by Seth Lowe.

Enamel and chromatophores. (Photo: Courtesy of Seth Lowe)

“Yesterday [while] walking Kitty, I stumbled across a chameleon crossing the street,” Lowe captions on an Instagram Post, holding the arboreal reptile. Based on the lizard’s size and appearance, the rescued chameleon is likely a male panther chameleon, perhaps one collected near the city of Ambanja in Madagascar.

Such exotic, colorful animals vibing among us San Franciscans aren’t foreign concepts; the city’s official animal is an invasive parrot species that began roosting in Nob Hill decades ago. But Lowe knew there was no way this was an established species here— “I knew [the chameleon] had to be someone’s pet, so I kept a close eye on it [until] I could find its owner.”

“The fuck you looking at?” (Photo: Courtesy of Seth Lowe)

Thankfully, the five-toed critter was reunited with its owner soon after Lowe discovered it near his home.

As unique as Lowe’s serendipitous animal rescue is… it’s not the first time a chameleon was found roaming around the SF Bay Area. In November 2020, another panther chameleon was spotted on a power line in Daly City, where it was stuck for three days before being rescued.

That wayward reptile, too, was eventually reunited with its owner. “Meraxes,” the chameleon’s name, went missing from his greenhouse home in June of that year — surviving five months in a truly alien environment.

But who knows: With the climate crisis creating unusually hot conditions across the world, there might be a day when pictures of South American parrots perched next to African reptiles along the Filbert Street steps are familiar sights.

Feature Image: Courtesy of Instagram via Seth Lowe

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