Cape dwarf chameleon

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Cape dwarf chameleon
Cape Dwarf Chameleon.jpg
moulting male
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Iguania
Family: Chamaeleonidae
Subfamily: Chamaeleoninae
Genus: Bradypodion
Species: B. pumilum
Binomial name
Bradypodion pumilum
(Gmelin, 1789)

The Cape dwarf chameleon (Bradypodion pumilum), is a chameleon native to the South African province of the Western Cape, where it is restricted to the region around Cape Town. As with most chameleons, its tongue is twice the length of its body and it can be shot out of its mouth using a special muscle in the jaw. This gives the chameleon the ability to catch insects some distance away.


In the past, most South African dwarf chameleons were considered to be a subspecies of the Cape species [1] This is now known to be wrong, however; B. pumilum does not appear to have any particularly close living relatives. Like the Knysna dwarf chameleon, it seems to be a basal offshoot of the ancestral stock which gave rise to all Bradypodion species.[2]


A Cape dwarf chameleon, drinking water from a rose leaf in a Cape Town garden

The Cape dwarf chameleon is known to grow over 15 cm (5.9 in) in length, including the tail, with males and females reaching similar adult sizes. They are ovoviviparous, but examination in controlled captivity has shown the very soft egg-like membrane around the young is discarded immediately on birth. The young resemble miniature versions of the adults, with muted colours, and typically reach no more than 2 cm in length at birth. Adults can vary quite significantly in colour variety, saturation and pattern, some appearing much more vibrant than others. The tail is prehensile, and the feet are well evolved to grasping twigs, with minute claws on the end which improve grip.

Normally very slow moving, chameleons have a characteristic shake which may let them look more like leaves to prey and predators. When provoked, they can speed up to several centimetres a second. When further provoked, they will inflate themselves, hiss, change colour dramatically and bite. They do not have sharp teeth, so their bites rarely inflict more than a slight pinch.


The Cape Dwarf chameleon is restricted to the area around Cape Town, the Boland, and the mountainous coastline as far as Agulhas. Here it is found in a range of habitats and vegetation types, from Fynbos and Renosterveld, to indigenous Afrotemperate forest and even suburban gardens.

This adaptable little species has also diversified into different forms and colours, depending on their habitat.

Chameleons in captivity[edit]

Juvenile Cape dwarf chameleon

While it is not normally legal to keep these chameleons, it is possible to obtain special permission from the South African government to do so. These chameleons are better admired than handled. However, taming is possible through a very gentle and consistent (almost daily) contact, allowing trust to be built up. This is typically achieved through careful and slow hand-based feeding of flies, small spiders, grasshoppers, etc. In cold weather, a sensitively handled B. pumilum commonly becomes eager to perch on a human hand for the warmth. To maintain them out of their natural environment requires advanced skills and is a demanding project; they require the right amount and type of ultraviolet exposure and large supplies of specific types of live food that are not easy to supply. In most urban environments, the amount of naturally occurring suitable insect food is insufficient. They should remain outdoors where they are able to regulate their own body temperatures using sunlight (like most reptiles, they die if deprived of, or overexposed to the sun). Cat owners should be aware that domestic cats are introduced predators, and will usually kill all chameleons in the immediate area. Consequently, one should not bring chameleons into a garden which is frequented by cats. It also is important to be cautious of the activity of shrikes, in particular the Southern Fiscal, which, if they get into the chameleon-hunting habit, will rapidly strip a garden.


  • Klaver, C.J.J. & Böhme, W. (1997): Liste der rezenten Amphibien und Reptilien - Chamaeleonidae. Das Tierreich 112: i-xiv, 1-85.
  • Tolley, Krystal A.; Tilbury, Colin R.; Branch, William R. & Matthee, Conrad A. (2004): Phylogenetics of the southern African dwarf chameleons, Bradypodion (Squamata: Chamaeleonidae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 30: 354–365. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(03)00211-2 PDF fulltext
  1. ^ (e.g. Klaver & Böhme 1997)
  2. ^ (Tolley et al. 2004)

External links[edit]