Labord’s chameleon (Furcifer labordi)

Synonyms: Chamaeleo barbouri, Chamaeleo labordi, Chamaeleo rhinoceratus labordi
GenusFurcifer (1)
SizeMale total length: up to 308 mm (2)
Female total length: up to 177 mm (2)

Labord’s chameleon is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

Known for its remarkable life history, Labord’s chameleon (Furcifer labordi) is a fascinating and peculiar animal, with a compressed body, beautiful colouring, and turret-like eyes (4). The sexes differ significantly in appearance, with males being generally green with white stripes on the flanks, while females are considerably more colourful. The vivid green of the body is patterned with violet and blue markings on the flanks, and bright orange markings decorate the backbone. This contrasts with the striking red stripes on the skin of the throat. Male Labord’s chameleons are also distinguished by their high, bony head crest (known as a casque), and the presence of a well-developed appendage jutting out from near the nostrils; this protuberance on females is only very small (2). The nasal projection and bony casque of the male enables females to recognise potential mates, and can be used as a weapon when in combat with other territorial males (4). 

This colourful chameleon is restricted to the south-west of Madagascar (2).

Labord’s chameleon inhabits dry deciduous forest (5) (6).

This small reptile has one of the most unique life histories of all the four-limbed vertebrates (the tetrapods), living for just one year and spending eight to nine months of that time within an egg. As the first rains fall at the beginning of the wet season, around November, the Labord’s chameleon eggs hatch. This synchronised hatching results in an entire population of Labord’s chameleons that are roughly the same age. After hatching, Labord’s chameleons have only four to five months of life left, the shortest known post-hatching lifespan of any tetrapod. They grow quickly, reaching sexual maturity in less than eight weeks, when they begin mating. Then, as swiftly as they have developed, Labord’s chameleons begin to die-off, and by the time the dry season sets in, this amazing chameleon can no longer be seen. Instead, the entire species consists of eggs buried underground (7). This extreme life history is likely to be an adaptation to the extreme environment. In the arid and unpredictable region of Madagascar that this chameleon inhabits, it is a shrewd plan to stay within the relative stability and safety of an egg, underground, until conditions above ground are suitable (7).

Chameleons are generally solitary, and move about on slender branches and twigs, which they grip with their fused toes. The prehensile tail provides an additional ‘hand’ on these precarious walkways as they scan the surrounding area with their independently mobile eyes for prey (4). Labord’s chameleons normally sleep within two metres of the ground (7).

Like other chameleons of Madagascar, Labord’s chameleon is facing significant threats from the degradation of the dry western forests (6). It is estimated that only 17 percent of the original vegetation of Madagascar remains, with agriculture, mining, and logging being among the main causes of habitat loss (8). Legal trade in this species was suspended in 1994 and there is no evidence that illegal trade is a threat (9) (10).

Labord’s chameleon is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meaning that any international trade in this species should be carefully monitored (3). This species occurs in Kirindy Mitea National Park (11). Otherwise, there are no specific conservation measures in place for this unique reptile, although numerous conservation organisations are working to conserve the dry deciduous forests in the Menabe and Atsimo Andrefana Regions of western Madagascar (12) (13).

To learn about conservation in Madagascar see:

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

  1. IUCN Red List (July, 2007)
  2. Glaw, F. and Vences, M. (1994) A Fieldguide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar. M. Vences and F. Glaw Verlags GbR, Germany.
  3. CITES (July, 2007)
  4. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptile and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  5. AdCham (September, 2009)
  6. Randrianantoandro, J.C., Razafimahatratra, B., Soazandry, M., Ratsimbazafy, J. and Jenkins, R.K.B. (2010) Habitat use of chameleons in a deciduous forest in western Madagascar. Amphibia-Reptilia, 31: 27-35.
  7. Karsten, K.B., Andriamandimbiarisoa, L.N., Fox, S.F. and Raxworthy, C.J. (2008) A unique life history among tetrapods: An annual chameleon living mostly as an egg. PNAS, 105(26): 8980-8984.
  8. Mittermeier, R.A., Robles-Gil, P., Hoffmann, M., Pilgrim, J.D., Brooks, T.M., Mittermeier, C.G., Lamoreux, J.L. and Fonseca, G. (2004) Hotspots Revisited: Earth's Biologically Richest and Most Endangered Ecoregions. Cemex, Mexico City.
  9. Carpenter, A.I., Rowcliffe, J.M. and Watkinson, A.R. (2004) The dynamics of global trade in chameleons. Biological Conservation, 120: 291-301.
  10. Carpenter, A.I., Robson, O., Rowcliffe, J.M. and Watkinson, A.R. (2005) The impacts of international and national governance changes on a traded resource: a case study of Madagascar and its chameleon trade. Biological Conservation, 123: 279-287.
  11. Raselimanana, A.P. (2008) Herpétofaune des forêts sèches malgaches. Malagasy Nature, 1: 46-75.
  12. Conservation International (September, 2008)
  13. WWF (September, 2008)