Rhinoceros chameleon (Furcifer rhinoceratus)

Synonyms: Chamaeleo rhinoceratus, Chamaeleon voeltzkowi
GenusFurcifer (1)
SizeMale length: up to 27 cm (2)
Female length: up to 12 cm (2)

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

The rhinoceros chameleon (Furcifer rhinoceratus) is aptly named for the prominent ‘horn’ which projects forwards from the top of the male’s nose (2) (3). This horn is less well developed in the female. Both the male and female rhinoceros chameleon possess a small head crest, known as a casque, but have no gular crest, the row of spines running along the throat and chin (2).

The male rhinoceros chameleon is greyish or brownish in colour, with dark brown or black between the scales, and a white line down the flanks. The lips are also white, and the horn is often a bluish colour. Although usually similar in colouration to the male, the female changes dramatically when carrying eggs (gravid). In this state, the female turns an overall neon-purple colour, with black bands on the body, extending onto the tail, which is orange or red (2).

Both the male and female rhinoceros chameleon possess a dorsal crest. This is only present on the front half of the body, and, together with the lower casque, helps distinguish the male rhinoceros chameleon from the closely related Furcifer antimena and Furcifer labordi. The female rhinoceros chameleon can also be differentiated from these two species by the absence of a white line down the middle of the belly (2).

The rhinoceros chameleon is endemic to the dry deciduous forest region of western Madagascar, although its exact distribution within this region is poorly understood (2) (4).

The rhinoceros chameleon inhabits dry deciduous forest (4). Little information is available on its precise habitat requirements, but it is reported to be commonly seen along roads and paths, as well as inhabiting the forest interior (2).

Furcifer chameleons are mainly solitary, tree-dwelling reptiles, and hunt by rapidly firing out the extremely long, sticky tongue to capture prey. Male chameleons are territorial, and, as in other chameleon species which possess horns or nasal projections, it is likely that the ‘horn’ of the male rhinoceros chameleon is used in combat, as well as being used by the female to choose potential mates. Chameleons are well known for their ability to change colour, a phenomenon brought about by contracting and expanding pigment-containing cells in the skin. These colour changes may be used as social signals (5).

Little information is available on the reproductive behaviour of the rhinoceros chameleon. Clutches of 4 to 11 eggs have been reported in captivity, with hatching occurring after 291 days, and the newly hatched rhinoceros chameleons weighing between 0.38 and 0.44 grams (2).

Like many Madagascan chameleons, the rhinoceros chameleon is threatened by habitat loss in the form of rapid deforestation (5) (6). Significant portions of forest habitat have already been cleared, and the remaining areas are often highly fragmented, as well as being critically threatened by logging, uncontrolled burning, and clearing for grazing and agriculture (4).

Many Madagascan chameleons have also been heavily collected for the pet trade (6). However, there are very few records of successful captive breeding of this species, and it is not reported to have been heavily exported in the past (2).

Concern over the levels of trade in Madagascan chameleons and the effects on wild populations led, in 1995, to a ban on the export of most chameleon species from Madagascar (6). The rhinoceros chameleon is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in rhinoceros chameleons should be carefully controlled (1), and it is reported to occur in at least one protected area in Madagascar, the Ankarafantsika National Park (2).

However, very little is known about the ecology or conservation needs of this species, and it may therefore benefit from further research before any specific conservation measures, if necessary, can be put into place.

Find out more about conservation in Madagascar:

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

  1. CITES (March, 2009)
  2. AdCham.com (March, 2009)
  3. Gray, J.E. (1845) Catalogue of the Specimens of Lizards in the Collection of the British Museum. British Museum, London.
  4. WWF: Madagascar dry deciduous forests (March, 2009)
  5. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  6. Brady, L.D. and Griffiths, R.A. (1999) Status Assessment of Chameleons in Madagascar. IUCN Species Survival Commission, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK.