The formeleon, Brookesia forma, is one of the smaller members of the Chamaeleonidae. At barely two inches when fully grown, and unable to change its green color in the slightest (except during mating season, when males are of a slightly lighter shade of the same color), the formeleon might, at first glance, look like a rather uninteresting species of chameleon. At second glance, however, it often doesn't look like a chameleon at all.
Indeed, unlike its cousins, some of which change color to camouflage themselves, the formeleon changes its form to hide its presence. From a thickish leaf to a stout bough to a roundish fruit, the formeleon easily blends into its environment, invisible to both prey and predator. This ability is due to its extremely flexible joints, which are also present at the base of its ribs, as well as its unusually elastic skin. This morphological oddity, unheard of in any other species of vertebrates, allows it to shift through an almost infinite number of shapes. In some extreme morphs, it can even change the overall volume of its body. Due to the constraints its form-switching imposes on the size of organs, its eyes and tongue are much smaller, relative to body size, than those of its cousins.
When scientists first discovered the formeleon in 1846, in Madagascar, they thought rather little of it, since its unvarying color often allowed them to spot it easily, even if the shape would have otherwise camouflaged it. They saw its shape-shifting capabilities as an unusual, yet impractical ability. However, as it became apparent that most of its prey and predators are color-blind, the formeleon was seen in a new light. In addition, the first few individuals had been found on or near the ground, where its color stood in stark contrast to the brown of the fallen leaves and stout tree trunks around it. But in recent years, it has been proven that formeleons live mostly up in the foliage, where it is nigh on impossible to spot, both form and color being used to blend into its surroundings. In addition to Madagascar, the species has been discovered over most of Africa, as well as southern Asia. The reason why it took so long to realize the extent of the formeleon population is presumed to be precisely because its camouflage is so effective.
In both African and Asian culture, the formeleon holds a special place. It is believed that formeleons are what originally inspired shadow plays. Originating from India, where the species is common, they have lost their connection to the animal as they were adopted by the chinese. However, if one places a formeleon in front of a fire, it changes its shape continuously, in an effort to blend into the ever-changing form of the flames, which causes its shadow to morph with it.
In Africa, this same ability helped it become a mythical creature which, depending on the tribe, might warn of impeding danger, conjure up demons, or both. For this reason, it is often depicted in tribal paintings, as well as on weapons or at the entrance to residences, either to ward of evil, grant inhuman abilities, or for luck.
Like all chameleons, the formeleon's diet consists mainly of insects, which it catches when they venture close, unaware of the danger. Deforestation and environmental pollution are the main cause for the decline of the formeleon population, which has been accelerating at an alarming rate these past years.
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