21 Different Types of Chameleons in South Africa

Different Types of Chameleons in South Africa
Photo by Amy Humphries

The Chameleon is one of the most colorful creatures on earth and one of the coolest reptiles we’ve ever seen. They range in color and size.

While there are many different species of chameleon, it can be hard to know what kind you’re looking at if you don’t know their key features or how to tell them apart from other chameleons. 

Here are the different types of chameleons in South Africa and their distinctive characteristics to help you figure out what kind it is!

We hope this guide makes identifying these awesome animals easier!

1. Namaqua Chameleon

The namaqua chameleon is a small species that only grows to about 20–25 cm. It’s also one of the different types of chameleons in South Africa, with only two surviving species from what was once an extensive genus. 

As their name suggests, these chameleons are found in Namaqualand and surrounding areas. Namaquas have been known to change their colors within a matter of minutes for both hunting and social reasons.

Because they’re common throughout protected regions, namaquas are often bred in captivity. This makes them quite easy to find and purchase if you want your little reptilian pet.

2. Flap Neck Chameleon

There are over 160 species of chameleon in Africa, and at least some of these can be found in South Africa.

Of all these, however, by far one of the most popular is one called The flap-necked chameleon – also known as Thor’s Pincer.

These cute little guys have been around for over two decades and can now be found across Europe and North America. 

Despite their name, flap-necked chameleons do not possess pincers; rather, they have a prehensile tail (like a monkey or a chimp). This adaptation enables them to grasp things with their tails, so they don’t slip out of trees!

3. Beardless Dwarf Chameleon

This is one of the types of chameleons in South Africa. These chameleons are small, with males typically growing to a length between 3.5 and 4 inches, while females are slightly smaller at around 2.5 to 3 inches in length.

This makes them some of the smallest chameleon species in all of Africa. 

These little lizards have relatively short legs and toes, usually not exceeding half their total body length. Beardless Dwarf Champs also feature short necks and prominent eyes.

They generally protrude slightly from their casings, creating an almost alien-like appearance. 

However, the largest threat to these lizards is habitat destruction, which is rare throughout much of their range. You can find them throughout northern Mozambique and southern Tanzania.

4. Grootvasdersbosch Dwarf Chameleon

This species is native to a small area of forested land near Grootvasdersbosch, Swellendam. It is a rare and under-researched chameleon, so little information is known about it.

Like other dwarf chameleon species, it has a distinct bifurcated tongue for sipping nectar from deep flowers but can also feed on insects. 

One interesting fact about these tiny reptiles: their eyes are much smaller than typical chameleons. They are almost invisible from more than a few inches away.

5. Eastern Cape Dwarf Chameleon

This is among the different types of chameleons in South Africa that is native to eastern and southern Cape Province, South Africa. It lives primarily on forest trees and is a diurnal species.

This particular species is likely Bradypodion damaranum or Bradypodion poensis. 

In addition, It’s often confused with juvenile Jackson’s Dwarf Chameleon and fits best into one of two groups: Bradypodion ventrale or Bradypodion caeruleogula.

Also known as a Cape Dwarf Chameleon, it comes from three distinct locations: Mt. Benson, Boulder’s Peak (Olifants River area), and Nature’s Valley – all in the Eastern Cape Province.

6. Wolkberg Dwarf Chameleon

A small, yellowish chameleon with a short tail and large eyes. It has been found at only one location in Limpopo province; even then, it is not common.

Its significance lies in its being one of only three chameleon species endemic to South Africa. 

Like all other dwarf chameleons, males are smaller than females. They also have distinctive light blue coloration on their chests. It makes them easy to distinguish from other Bradypodion species. 

Wolkberg dwarf chameleons can grow up to 6 inches long; however, most only reach about 2 inches when fully grown. It takes 7-8 years for them to reach maturity, and they live up to 10 years as adults.

7. Natal Midlands Dwarf Chameleon

This species is widely distributed throughout Kruger National Park. It is typically found in lower vegetation and sometimes on low-hanging tree branches.

These chameleons are very shy but will eat crickets, grasshoppers, and other small insects if you can get them close enough to your hand.

A healthy population of Natal Midlands Dwarf Chameleons lives within a couple of hundred meters of our main offices. We find them all over during walks around lunchtime.

8. Elandsberg Dwarf Chameleon

The Elandsberg Dwarf Chameleons are one of those types of chameleons in South Africa’s Cape fynbos and grasslands.

This dwarf chameleon gets its name from its prominent, distinct crest (the bump on top of its head). This usually sports triangular seats.

The Elandsberg Dwarf Chameleon gets its scientific name from combining two Greek words. Bradus means broad, and podion means small feet – referring to their relatively large feet as compared to other dwarf chameleons.

This species is found in Western Cape province’s Nature Conservation District, although they are now being bred on farms elsewhere.

9. Cape Dwarf Chameleon

Also known as dwarf bradypodions, these chameleons were recently identified after being initially mistaken for juveniles.

Dwarf bradypodions are smaller than other bradypodion species, with males growing up to only about five inches long and females reaching about seven inches. 

As you might expect, dwarf bradypodions prefer living at high elevations and have evolved specializations to help them survive in their arid habitat.

They are among the types of chameleons in South Africa that can conserve water by decreasing their metabolic rate. Also, they produce a thick layer of mucus that protects their skin from desiccation.

10. Setaro’s Dwarf Chameleon

This chameleon is called Two-Striped Setaro’s Dwarf Chameleon or simply Setaro’s Chameleon. They are one of the types of chameleons in South Africa, specifically Kenya and Tanzania. The specific name was given to honor a Kenyan veterinary doctor named Dr. Gabriel Setaro. 

Also, this species has two color variations: yellow with blue stripes and green with brown stripes. It grows from 2.5 inches long at birth to about 6 inches long when fully grown, making it one of the smaller species of dwarf chameleons.

It can live for about five years if taken care of properly.

11. Western Dwarf Chameleon

The western dwarf chameleon is a highly variable species that can be green, greyish-brown, or brown with red stripes. Their average body length is 12.7cm (5in). Males are generally smaller than females. 

The western dwarf chameleon occurs across southern Namibia and northwestern Botswana, extending southwards to north-eastern South Africa, from Orange River catchment areas to coastal lowlands in Eastern Cape Province.

It may also occur further inland, but these have not been confirmed yet.

12. Ngome Dwarf Chameleon

The Ngome dwarf chameleon is among the types of chameleons in South Africa and breeds from October to November. Its colors change depending on its mood, with brighter colors indicating a happier chameleon.

Since it’s small and can live for three years or longer, it’s a popular pet choice among reptile enthusiasts. 

However, if you find one in your yard during the breeding season, don’t be alarmed—this beautiful little creature won’t hurt you.

In fact, they’re quite peaceful and social creatures! This species is also notable because it’s one of few animals with fluorescent colors – which means its colors are more vibrant under UV light than regular light.

The eggs take about 120 days to incubate after mating takes place.

13. Qudeni Dwarf Chameleon

Originally from southern Zimbabwe and eastern Botswana, Qudeni chameleons are still quite rare to see in zoos. As its name implies, it is a dwarf species, growing only up to three inches long. 

Like most Bradypodion species, these chameleons are very stocky and have an interesting color pattern with two sets of eyes that can change between yellow and brown.

Dwarf chameleons are more outgoing than most other species because they aren’t as intimidating as some bigger animals!

At Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo, we house Qudeni dwarf chameleons and several other Bradypodion species.

14. Kwa-Zulu Dwarf Chameleon

The Kwa-Zulu Dwarf Chameleon is found only in Natal, South Africa, as one of the types of chameleons in South Africa. They usually live on trees and hide during the daytime.

They move around at night to hunt for food. This species lives on leaves and small insects like flies, crickets, beetles, caterpillars, etc. 

In addition, the females lay clutches of 1-10 eggs every four months after mating with a male chameleon. Eggs are laid on a leaf above ground and then carried by one or more females to guard it till they hatch after two months.

After hatching, they stay inside their mother’s burrow for 3–4 weeks until they get strong enough to hunt for food.

15. Kentani Dwarf Chameleon

The Kentani Dwarf Chameleons are one of the types of chameleons in South Africa. They are small species of dwarf chameleon native to South Africa.

They grow up to around 4 inches long and are bright orange with black stripes and dots. 

These chameleons can turn dark brown when they’re cold or feeling stressed. The Kentani Dwarf is commonly kept as a pet because it’s docile and easy-going, especially for such a little chameleon.

These relatively low-maintenance pets will eat small crickets twice per week and appropriate greens. They also love their baths!

16. Little Karoo Dwarf Chameleon

The Little Karoo Dwarf Chameleon is one of six dwarf chameleon species you can find throughout Southern Africa, and with males reaching lengths of just over 3 inches, it’s also one of the smallest.

It ranges from northern Namibia to South African provinces such as Western Cape, Eastern Cape, and Northern Cape. (Don’t confuse it with its related subspecies Bradypodion gutturale gutturale, which is actually more common and larger.) 

Even among these comparatively diminutive reptiles, males are significantly smaller than females.

These active types of chameleons in South Africa blend well into their leafy surroundings when resting but forage during daylight hours for insects and other invertebrates.

17. Drakensberg Dwarf Chameleon

The Drakensberg Dwarf Chameleon is endemic to eastern Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and Lesotho. It lives in high altitudes (1,800 to 2,900 m) in areas with summer rainfall.

This Drakensberg Dwarf chameleon is a sexually dimorphic species, where females are much larger than males. In addition to being larger, females have broader heads and longer tails. 

Males can reach a maximum length of 40mm, while females can reach 60mm – 70mm when fully grown.

Unlike most other species within its genus, B. dracomontanum is diurnal and actively forages during the day rather than at night or dawn/dusk, as seen with most other Bradypodion species.

18. Knysna Dwarf Chameleon

The Knysna Dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion damaranum) is a small lizard that belongs to a larger group called dwarf or pygmy chameleons.

These types of chameleons in South Africa have sharp claws and long legs and move quickly through leaves or branches. Their bodies are usually colored green with shades of brown on top and yellow around their eyes. 

They are smaller than other members of their family, only growing up to 6 cm (2.4 inches). The Knysna dwarf chameleon lives mostly in trees and doesn’t like water very much.

Instead, they stay high up to avoid predators such as birds, snakes, and even large bugs. They also eat insects such as spiders, termites, and crickets.

19. Pondo Dwarf Chameleon

The Bradpodion caffer has a brown body and two longitudinal rows of yellow dots on its back. Its head is usually a pale pink color, but it can become redder during times when it is exciting.

The second row of yellow dots along its back continues all around its body, making it hard to tell where the back ends and where its tail begins. 

They also have light-yellow stripes running down their sides and thin black stripes running between them.

They are usually no more than half an inch long, but males tend to be larger than females and reach up to seven inches in length.

As you might expect from their name, Pondo Dwarf Chameleons will eat just about anything that moves!

20. UMlalazi Dwarf Chameleon

The uMlalazi Dwarf Chameleons are small species of chameleon, types of chameleons in South Africa from south-western KwaZulu-Natal and northern Swaziland.

Boulenger described the first specimen in 1896. uMlalazi Dwarfs are endemic to misty mountains that prefer thickets and fynbos up to 1 500 meters above sea level (3 846 feet). 

Their range also extends eastward into Swaziland. They feed on small arthropods, including insects, spiders, and some plant matter.

The breeding season for dwarf chameleons is from October to December, with 2 – 11 eggs being laid between November and January at about 30 days intervals.

21. Swartberg Dwarf Chameleon

The Swartberg Dwarf chameleon is endemic to a small area around Cape Town and can only be found on rocky outcrops and stone walls.

It’s a rare species and highly endangered due to habitat destruction and poaching for its illegal pet trade.

The Swartberg dwarf chameleon’s coloration varies based on location, sex, and age—they generally display more yellow, black, or blue-gray tones than other types of chameleons in South Africa.

These types of chameleons in South Africa are best identified by: Their short legs (around 3-4mm), shorter tails (between 12-13mm), small eyes, triangular head shape, and brightly colored feet. The female has red feet!

Conclusion

If you’re planning on visiting South Africa, you may have heard of the chameleon species that live there and how beautiful they can be in their natural habitat.

But did you know there is more than one chameleon type in South Africa? In this guide to the different types of chameleons in South Africa, we talk about all of them. 

There are more than 250 species of chameleons worldwide, most of which can be found in South Africa.

The variety of species found in this country includes the mongoose, Klipspringer, and Jackson’s chameleons, just to name a few!

With so many different species to choose from, it can be difficult to know which one you should adopt as your new pet. So why not learn all about the different types of chameleons in South Africa?

Here’s everything you need to know about these adorable chameleons!

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