Short-horned chameleon (Calumma brevicorne)

Also known as: elephant-eared chameleon
Synonyms: Calumma brevicornis, Chamaeleo brevicornis, Chamaeleon brevicornis, Chamaeleon gularis
GenusCalumma (1)
SizeMale length: 35 cm (2)

Listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The most striking and distinctive features of the short-horned chameleon are its large, ear-like occipital lobes, and the short bony appendage that projects from the snout of the male (2) (4). Although generally greyish in colouration, there is some variation between the sexes and across the species’ range, with the slightly larger males tending to have a lighter coloured head, and some specimens being greener and having blue legs (2) (5). The size of this chameleon also varies from one locality to another, as does the prominence of the dorsal crest, which is more obvious in some individuals than in others (2). The level of variation in this species has led some to hypothesise that it is actually a complex of several closely related species (5) (6). Indeed, several new Columma species were described in 2006 from populations originally considered to be short-horned chameleons (1) (6). The subspecies Columma brevicorne tsarafidyi was described from a single specimen allegedly collected in the Tsarafidyi Forest in 1970, but the most recent taxonomic research suggests it is indistinct from the nominate subspecies C. b. brevicorne (1) (4).

The short-horned chameleon is endemic to Madagascar, where it occurs in the eastern and northern parts of the island (2) (4).

Found in shrubs and trees on forest edges (2).

Like other chameleons, the compressed body, spindly limbs, grasping feet and prehensile tail of the short-horned chameleon enable it to deftly negotiate the branches and twigs of its arboreal home (7). Very little is known about this species’ ecology, but in captivity it is known to feed on a wide variety of insects (2). When threatened, it raises its ear-like flaps to increase its apparent size and attacks with an open mouth (5) (7).

Although the reproductive biology of the short-horned chameleon has not been studied in any detail, females have been observed laying 10 to 30 eggs, around 40 days after mating (2).

Prior to the short-horned chameleon’s listing on Appendix II of CITES in 1995, it was exported in considerable numbers for the pet trade (8). With trade now reduced to a minimum, the greatest threat to this species is the loss and degradation of its forest habitat (9). In the 2,000 years since humans arrived on Madagascar, the island nation has lost 90 percent of its forest cover, with firewood collection and slash-and-burn agriculture continuing to have a devastating impact (10).

The only direct conservation measure currently in place for the short-horned chameleon is its listing on Appendix II of CITES, which serves to prohibit trade in this species without a permit (3). Nonetheless, the conservation of Madagascar’s biodiversity is considered a high conservation priority and this species, like many endemic chameleons, should certainly benefit from existing efforts by international and local conservation groups to protect the island’s forests (9) (10) (11) (12).

For further information on conservation in Madagascar see:

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  1. Raxworthy, C.J. and Nussbaum, R.A. (2006) Six new species of occipital-lobed Calumma chameleons (Squamata: Chamaeleonidae) from montane regions of Madagascar, with a new description and revision of Calumma brevicorne. Copeia, 2006(4): 711-734.
  2. (April, 2009)
  3. CITES (March, 2009)
  4. The Reptile Database (April, 2009)
  5. Bartlett, R.D. and Bartlett, P.P. (1995) Chameleons. Barron's Educational Series Inc, New York.
  6. Boumans, L., Vieites, D.R., Glaw, F. and Vences, M. (2007) Geographical patterns of deep mitochondrial differentiation in widespread Malagasy reptiles. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 45: 822-839.
  7. Halliday, T. and Adler, K. (2002) The New Encyclopedia of Reptile and Amphibians. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. Carpenter, A.I., Rowcliffe, J.M. and Watkinson, A.R. (2004) The dynamics of global trade in chameleons. Biological Conservation, 120: 291-301.
  9. Jenkins, R.K.B., Brady, L.D., Bisoa, M., Rabearivony, J. and Griffiths, R.A. (2003) Forest disturbance and river proximity influence chameleon abundance in Madagascar. Biological Conservation, 109: 407-415.
  10. WWF (April, 2009)
  11. Conservation International (April, 2009)
  12. Madagascar Wildlife Conservation (April, 2009)