Africa Lizards

Chameleons in Madagascar I Encountered

In my last 6-week trip to Madagascar, I have been to most of the districts in the country except the extreme north such as Nosy Be where I already visited a few times in the past. I went on field trips every day (and night). There have been 183 chameleons in my findings. Here I’m collecting highlight photos of some of the chameleons I found during the herping trips.

If you will be visiting Madagascar for wildlife you will never miss the chameleons. There are about 202 known species of chameleons in the world, while 89+ of them are endemic to Madagascar. The rest of the family mainly hail from sub-Saharan Africa. Malagasy species are classified into 3 genera: Calumma,  Furcifer, and Brookesia.

1. Calumma

All 37 species are endemic to Madagascar. This genus contains some small chameleons to the world’s largest species (Parson’s chameleon).

Parson’s chameleon (Calumma parsonii)

The largest (heaviest) species of chameleon in the world. The largest Oustalets’s chameleons might be a bit longer in length but are incomparable in weight. Male Parson’s have a pair of warty horns between eyes and nose. I found them mainly in the east and the north. Not only are they bigger than other chameleons but also they live a longer life. The average lifespan of the Parson’s chameleon is 10 years while it’s usually less than 5 years for other chameleons.

Malthe’s chameleon (Calumma malthe)

Short-horned chameleon (Calumma brevicorne)

Also known as Elephant-eared chameleon, I found this species on the east side of the island.

Perinet chameleon (Calumma gastrotaenia)

Also known as Malagasy side-striped chameleon, it is a small species I found in central and eastern Madagascar.

Nose-horned chameleon (Calumma nasutum)

Also known as Big-nosed Chameleon. A small species I found in the east.

Lance-nosed chameleon (Calumma gallus)

Also known as Blade chameleon. A small species I only found in a few locations in the east.

2.  Furcifer

This genus contains 22 species which are mostly endemic to Madagascar, including the longest species (Oustalets’s chameleon) and one of the most well-known species (Panther chameleon).

Oustalets’s chameleon (Furcifer oustaleti)

Also known as Malagasy giant chameleon. With a snout-tail length of over 68 cm this is considered the longest species of chameleon in the world. Among all of the chameleons I found, this species tends to have the widest range that I could find almost every district I visited.

During a hot and dry day in Sakaraha, south-western Madagascar, I came across this gorgeous but dehydrated one. Dehydration of a chameleon is easy to tell by finding sunken eyes. They don’t recognize still water so I tried to help him by dripping water from my bottle. After a minute of dripping around his snout he started to recognize the water and lick from my hand for 3 minutes. Hopefully he could recover and thrive.

Crocodile chameleon (Furcifer verrucosus)

Also known as Warty or spiny chameleon. It is closely related to the Oustalets’s chameleon.

Panther chameleon (Furcifer pardalis)

Panther chameleon is definitely the number one most common Malagasy species of chameleon in captivity elsewhere in the world. But here in Madagascar, I just don’t find them everywhere. They only naturally exist in the very northeast. The coloration of males largely varies with locales, anywhere from red, yellow, green to bluish turquoise. Females remain tan and brown with hints of pink, peach or orange.

Its scientific name pardalis means leopard, which obviously is about their spots and pattern. No idea how it turned into panther though. But there is never a rule for the common name of a reptile.

This is by far the most aggressive species, in general, I have experienced in this country. Every time I got close, even before I tried to handle them, they would not hesitate to turn their face to me with a wide-open mouth trying to scare me away.

Canopy chameleon (Furcifer willsii)

Also known as Wills’ chameleon (not Will’s). I found them in the east and central.

Carpet chameleon (Furcifer lateralis)

Jewelled chameleon (Furcifer campani)

3. Brookesia

Leaf chameleons or Dwarf chameleons are not only the smallest chameleons but also among the smallest reptiles in the world. All 30 species are endemic to Madagascar. Unlike typical chameleons, leaf chameleons lack vibrant coloration. They are mostly gray to brown resembling dead leaves. It’s especially hard to spot them in the jungle. The best camouflage is all about staying subtle, low key and still.

Brown leaf chameleon (Brookesia superciliaris)

I spent quite a while in a rather dry forest in Ramofana before I could spot these Brown leaf chameleons.

Domergue’s leaf chameleon (Brookesia thieli)

This one was found in Analamazaotra.

Perinet leaf chameleon (Brookesia therezieni)

At the moment I spotted this Perinet leaf chameleon in Ramofana, on a plant about my knee’s height on wet mud, there were a couple of Greater bamboo lemurs right above my head on the tree top. Not only are the lemurs critically endangered also they cannot be easily found anywhere else in Madagascar. However, I chose to approach this Perinet leaf chameleon and took these shots. I should have gone after the lemurs first as they would not have stayed at a spot like the chameleons. But I’m happy with the encounter with such an impressive critter in a tiny size.

See other Lizards in Madagascar I Encountered

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