Brown leaf chameleon (Brookesia superciliaris)

Also known as: horned leaf chameleon
GenusBrookesia (1)
SizeTotal length: 8 - 12 cm (2)

The brown leaf chameleon is listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).

The brown leaf chameleon (Brookesia superciliaris) is, like other Brookesia species, a master of disguise. Its elongate, rather high, laterally squashed body resembles a rolled-up, dead leaf. The size and appearance of this chameleon varies considerably over its relatively vast range, and it may be any shade of brown, beige, grey, olive, green, or dark red, but usually display colours and patterns that mimic a dead leaf. Despite its tiny size, the brown leaf chameleon has an imposing appearance due to two pronounced horns that protrude from the head above each eye and four spiny scales that jut from the throat (2).  

The brown leaf chameleon occurs in eastern Madagascar (including the island of Nosy Boraha (3)), from sea level up to altitudes of over 1,250 metres (4).

The floor of evergreen primary forest is the preferred habitat of the brown leaf chameleon, but it may also be found in secondary forest and adjacent overgrown plantations (5). It seems to prefer closed-canopy forest and climbs higher in the forest, (up to 1.5 metres), more often than other species of Brookesia (2).

The brown leaf chameleon spends its days foraging among dead leaves on the forest floor (2), searching for prey with its independently moving turret-like eyes and catching insects with its long, sticky tongue which shoots out at lightening speed (6). If threatened, the lizard’s first reaction is to stay still and rely on its remarkable camouflage but it may also exhibit other defence behaviours. This includes the ‘freeze-and-roll’ technique, in which the chameleon folds its legs underneath its belly, rolls over to one side and remains very still – cleverly mimicking a dead leaf on the forest floor (7).

Brown leaf chameleons have an interesting courtship ritual in which a male approaches a female with pronounced nodding and rocking movements. A non-receptive female repels a male by reacting with jerky movements, while a receptive female walks with the male. After some time walking together, and before dusk, the male mounts the female and is carried on her back until the pair copulates in the late evening or at night. This species is known to store sperm (2).

Between 30 and 45 days after copulation, the female lays two to five eggs, which she hides under dead leaves, moss, and pieces of bark on the forest floor. Sometimes, a true nest is excavated and the clutch is laid on to the ground. The eggs hatch after 59 to 70 days, with the brown leaf chameleon reaching sexual maturity within one year (2).

Like other Brookesia chameleons, the brown leaf chameleon is threatened primarily by habitat destruction (3), the result of agricultural expansion, timber extraction and small-scale mining (8).

Harvesting for the international pet trade does occur, but is unlikely to be threatening the survival of the brown leaf chameleon (9). Since 2005, export quotas have been set at 200 individuals per year (10).

The brown leaf chameleon is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that trade in this species should be carefully controlled in order to be compatible with their survival (1). It is also known to occur in a number of protected areas including Befotaka-Midongy National Park (11), Mantadia National Park (5), Analamazoatra Special Reserve (5) and Kalambatitra Special Reserve (12). Although illegal harvesting and other activities that degrade the forest habitat may lessen any benefits this bestows, this species is more tolerant of forest disturbance than other leaf chameleons. 

For more information on the brown leaf chameleon see:

Authenticated (07/03/11) by Dr Richard K.B. Jenkins, Madagasikara Voakajy and Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent.

  1. CITES (July, 2007)
  2. Nečas, P. and Schmidt, W. (2004) Stump-tailed chameleons. Miniature Dragons of the Rainforest. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt.
  3. Carpenter, A.I. and Robson, O. (2005) A review of the endemic chameleon genus Brookesia from Madagascar, and the rationale for its listing on CITES Appendix II. Oryx, 39(4): 345-380.
  4. Andreone, F., Randrianirina, J.E., Jenkins, P.D. and Aprea, G. (2000) Species diversity of Amphibia, Reptilia and Lipotyphla (Mammalia) at Ambolokopatrika, a rainforest between the Anjanaharibe-Sud and Marojejy Massifs, NE Madagascar. Biodiversity and Conservation, 9: 1587-1622.
  5. Rakotondravony, H. (2004) Diversité des caméléons forestiers de la région d'Andasibe (Madagascar) et modèle de distribution de cette communauté selon différent types physionomiques. La Terre et la vie: Revue d'Ecologie, 59: 529-544.
  6. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  7. Raxworthy, C. J. (1991) Field observations on some dwarf chameleons (Brookesia spp.) from rainforest areas of Madagascar, with the description of a new species. Journal of Zoology, 224: 11-25.
  8. Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots (February, 2008)
  9. Jenkins, R. (March, 2011) Pers. comm.
  10. CITES Export Quotas (March, 2011)
  11. Bora, P., Randriambahiniarime, O., Rabemananjara, F.C.E., Ramilijaona, O.R., Glaw, F. and Vences, M. (2007) A rapid assessment survey of the herpetofauna at Befotaka-Midongy National Park, south-eastern Madagascar. Mitteilungen des Museums für Naturkunde Berlin, Zoologische Reihe, 83: 170-178.
  12. Andreone, F., and Randrianirina, J. (2007) The amphibians and reptiles of Kalambatritra, a little-known rainforest of south-eastern Madagascar. Bollettino del Museo Regionale di Scienze Naturali di Torino, 24: 179-190.