The Wildlife of the Rwenzoris (Fishy Ugandan Tales: Episode 9)

Rwenzoris, Uganda
Rwenzoris, Uganda

Hidden on the western side of Uganda lies an unexpected surprise. Home to the third highest summit in Africa (Mount Stanley), a number of diverse ecosystems, and interesting wildlife, the Rwenzoris are a fascinating mountain range.  Although I am here in Uganda studying mercury contamination in fish, a number of other species of this area also spark my interest. Curious about the plants and animals of the Rwenzoris, some of which are endemic to these mountains, I set out to hike the central circuit that traverses the Ugandan portion of them.  These are some of the most interesting species I encountered…

 

Female Three-Horned Chameleon
Female Three-Horned Chameleon

 

Male Three-Horned Chameleon
Male Three-Horned Chameleon

The three-honed chameleon, also known as Johnston’s chameleon, is an east-African species, endemic to Uganda, Rwanda and the DRC, that can be found in abundant numbers at high elevations (3000m plus). Males and females can easily be differentiated by the presence or absence of this chameleon’s three characteristic horns.

As with most chameleons, this species is capable of changing their coloration. Camouflage is one of the known factors which regulates chameleons coloration. Here in the Rwenzoris, I saw a number of chameleons. With no exceptions, when they were in the foliage they were green and when they were on the ground, they were brownish.  Interestingly, camouflage is not the only factor that drives chameleon coloration.  Temperature has been shown to influence color in a number of species. Intentions also seem to be an important driver of color.  What exactly can “intentions” mean in this context?  Well, if a chameleon is courting another individual, or defending themselves, their color is likely to be affected by the activity at hand. So an individuals’ intention toward another can affect coloration.

Kinyongia xenorhina (Rwenzori plate-horned chameleon) on the ground
Kinyongia xenorhina (Rwenzori plate-horned chameleon) on the ground

Now although I originally thought that this brown colored chameleon was also a three-horned chameleon, some readers have suggested that it is actually a female Kinyongia xernorhina, also known as the Rwenzori plate-horned chameleon, or the strange-nosed chameleon.  A quick search on scientific journal databases has shown me that very little research has been done on the chameleons of the Rwenzoris. Perhaps sometime in the future more documentation will be readily available for people to be able to easily tell the differences and particularities of the different chameleons present in the Rwenzoris.

 

Lobelia deckenii; on route while heading towards the summit of the Rwenzoris
Lobelia deckenii; on route while heading towards the summit of the Rwenzoris

Lobelia deckenii is a plant that grows in moist valleys of East-Africa.  Being Canadian, the only other lobelias I had seen in my life are all very small, so when I saw one of these plants for the first time I understood why they are commonly known as ‘giant lobelia’. This plant can span over a meter in height and is known for the water reservoirs it carries in its rosettes.  When temperature drops below zero, these reservoirs freeze, protecting the apical meristem of the plant.  Without this reservoir the plant itself freezes, causing damage.

Since as far as I can remember I've spent my time outside attempting to understand and connect with the natural world that surrounds us. When it came time to make a career choice, this lead me toward research in ecology and conservation, topics that are of fundamental importance to me. I completed a Bachelors degree in Environmental Sciences at the University of Ottawa in 2011, during which I studied the effects anthropogenic traffic noise on birdsong; discovering the impacts human activity has on even the most unexpected aspects of animal life! I then completed a cross-Canada canoe journey in partnership with the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society & the Ottawa Riverkeeper Alliance raising funds and awareness for watershed conservation. Between 2012 & 2014 I studied mercury contamination in African freshwater fish as part of a Masters degree in Biology at McGill University. (The stories in this blog series are from my field work in Uganda!) Following this, I spent time developing Science Faction, a podcast all about unbelievable discoveries and creating an urban beekeeping collective in Montreal, Canada, with which we teach locals about beekeeping and pollinator gardens. Today, I'm working on a PhD in the department of Natural Resource Sciences at McGill University, during which I will explore questions related to riverine ecosystem service conservation.

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