Drakensberg dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion dracomontanum)

GenusBradypodion (1)
SizeTotal length: up to 14 cm (2)

The Drakensburg dwarf chameleon is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1), but is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The Drakensburg dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion dracomontanum) is a diminutive reptile whose scientific name, Bradypodion, means 'slow foot', which charmingly describes its deliberate yet erratic gait (4). The Drakensburg dwarf chameleon is a drab light brown in colour, except for small, bright blue-green tubercles (small bumps) on the upper limbs and flanks. The cheeks and top of the head may be tinged powder blue (2). The tail, which is at least as long as the body (2), is prehensile, enabling this chameleon to traverse trees with ease (4). There are no obvious differences in appearance between the male and female (2). Like all chameleons, this species also has prominent, turret-like eyes that can work independently of each other and an extensible, sticky tongue that can be quickly projected forward to catch an insect. The feet of chameleons are also distinctive, having two toes fused together on one side of the foot and three fused toes on the other, which enables the chameleon to tightly grip the branches of bushes and trees (5).

The Drakensberg dwarf chameleon is found only in South Africa, where it primarily occupies the southern and central parts of the Drakensberg (Dragon) Mountain range in KwaZulu-Natal and the Free State (2) (4).

The Drakensberg dwarf chameleon is most commonly found on bushes in alpine grasslands, at altitudes over 1,500 metres, although it may also occur in small patches of forest (2). 

Little is known about the biology and life history of the Drakensberg dwarf chameleon. However, like other Bradypodion species, it probably preys on small insects and obtains water by licking dew or raindrops on foliage. During the day, it probably climbs to the top of vegetation to bask in the sun and escape predation, retreating at night into low bushes (4).

Male Bradypodion chameleons are territorial, and their bright colouration becomes most vivid when defending their territories against other males, or when courting females (4). Female Drakensberg dwarf chameleons give birth to live young, instead of laying eggs like most reptiles. However, the pregnant female does not directly supply the embryo with nutrients (known as ‘vivipary’). Instead, the embryo remains within an egg, but develops inside the mother's body (‘ovovivipary’). This is thought to be an adaptive response to the cool temperatures of the mountainous areas this species inhabits (6). Bradypodion chameleons typically give birth to two clutches every year, each containing 5 to 20 young (4), after a gestation period of around three months (2). These chameleons reach sexual maturity after about nine months and live for three to five years (2).

As the Drakensburg dwarf chameleon’s conservation status has not yet been assessed, it is not known what, if anything, threatens this species. However, it is possible that, like other chameleons (2) (5), this species may be impacted by collection for the international pet trade.

The Drakensberg dwarf chameleon is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), meaning trade in this species should be carefully monitored (3). Although this chameleon is not currently known to be the subject of any specific conservation action, the Drakensberg area has a long history of effective conservation management (7).  In fact, the uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park in which this chameleon is found (8) has been inscribed as a World Heritage Site since 2000 (7). 

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2011)
  2. Tolley, K. and Burger, M. (2007) Chameleons of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  3. CITES (October, 2010)
  4. Branch, B. (1998) Field Guide to Snakes and Other Reptiles of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
  5. Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, P.P. (1995) Chameleons: Everything About Selection, Care, Nutrition, Diseases, Breeding, and Behavior. Barron’s Educational Series Inc, New York.
  6. Martin, J. and Wolfe, A. (1992) Chameleons - Nature's Masters of Disguise. Blandford, London.
  7. UNESCO World Heritage Sites: uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park (October, 2010)
  8. Briggs, P. (2008) uKhahlamba-Drakensberg Park. Southbound Pocket Guides, 30 Degrees South, Johannesburg.