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Prof circumvents Mideast conflict to study chameleons

By The Mercury

Understanding the physiology of a very tiny animal can pose some very large challenges, such as working in a Middle East trouble spot. After returning from a trip to study the hematology of the Mediterranean chameleon in July, a Kansas State University veterinary medicine researcher discovered his timing had been quite fortuitous.

“This project was performed in Israel during the current intense situation between that country and Hamas,” said David Eshar, assistant professor of exotic and zoological medicine service in the university’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “One of our collection sites was on a Mediterranean beach that was directly bombarded by Hamas a couple of days after we had worked there. When forced to move to a new location, we had stumbled over a hidden, newly tested Iron Dome anti-missile system site positioned to intercept the Hamas rockets.”

Despite the danger, Eshar and his team evaluated numerous chameleons. Blood samples were collected and analyzed to produce more than 40 new hematological analytes never before described for this species.

“Part of the reason why this was not previously performed was because of the chameleon’s smaller body size and the difficulty in obtaining sufficient blood samples to allow the analysis,” Eshar said. “In this project, we used our expertise to obtain the blood samples and have them analyzed using machines that require only minute blood volume - less than one large blood drop.”

The Mediterranean chameleon lives in an arboreal habitat, feeding on insects captured by its unique telescopic tongue. Hematological and biochemical analyses of blood can be useful for studying the biology of species and determining the health status of animals both in the wild and in captivity. Eshar said that knowledge of baseline hematological ranges is imperative in clinical evaluation of diseased animals.

“We had success with a similar study involving another Israeli native species, the Negev desert tortoise, that was well received in a veterinary medicine wildlife journal and at a conference,” Eshar said. “We expect to have the data generated in our Mediterranean chameleon study to also be presented at a professional meeting and submitted for publication.”

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