Cape Dwarf Chameleon

Cape Dwarf Chameleons

Bradypodion pumilum

The Cape Dwarf Chameleon. This small chameleon ranging in size from 2-15 cm ( including the tail) is  native to the Western Cape Province. They are usually considered endemic to the subcontinent, but some researchers also place a number of East African species in the genus. The taxonomy of some southern African groups is also very confused as the scattered populations are characterized by slight differences in scalation and male breeding colour. Bradypodion means “slow foot”, describing their deliberate jerky gait. One wonders how many sub populations exist “out of their zones” due to translocations via the nursery plant trade for example.


Cape dwarf chameleon

Chameleons are unlike any other lizards, there scales are small, don’t overlap and lack bony plates. Their necks are undefined with compressed head and body. Chameleons have opposing toes, usually bound together and a prehensile tail that cannot be shed or regenerated. They have independently moving protruding eyes and poor hearing. Their telescopic tongues are shot out using a special muscle in the jaw. Chameleons are poikilotherms meaning there body temperature is completely dependent on environmental temperature. Chameleons are primarily arboreal, clasping swaying branches, often mimicking leaves blowing in the wind. As part of their camouflage the chameleon can change its colouring to suit its habitat but there is also dramatic darkening when they are stressed and intensity of colour when they are aroused in courting or competition.  


Cape dwarf chameleon

Most chameleons are ovoviparous but apparently there’s a very soft egg-like membrane around the young that’s 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. Males tend to be brighter, have larger crests and narrower stomach area around the hips.

The Cape Dwarf Chameleon is classified as a medium- sized chameleon with an average body size of 50-70mm. This species is considered viviparous, meaning it gives birth to live young rather than eggs, and can have one to several clutches of between 10-15 offspring a year.

Cape dwarf chameleon

These photographs are from an ongoing Dwarf Chameleon monitoring program in the Hermanus are. The original batch were rescued from an area under building development and relocated to a golf course. Since then they have bred and many youngsters photographed. The habitat is fynbos and although fires are usually a threat these fortunate chaps are safe on the golf course.

The Cape Dwarf Chameleon shows a preference to residing on Restios and it has been observed that those that live in open, low-lying fynbos vegetation tend to be smaller and dull-coloured with smaller crests. Those in denser, closed vegetation areas tend to be larger and brightly coloured, with a longer tail and larger casque. The smaller specimens seem to live in low vegetation, preying on small insects. They have been observed climbing  onto the top of vegetation in the morning to bask in the sun and retreating at night into the bushes and Restios, often quite close to the ground. They turn pale grey-white, making them relatively easy to spot with a torch. Generally older larger chameleons inhabit bushes and trees, whereas the young and smaller chameleons inhabit grasses and Restios.  If you examine the size of the youngsters it makes sense that they do not have big enough limbs to grasp larger branches.

Bad behaviour

Adult chameleons are territorial. Males fight intruders and cannibalize small intruders. Fights are influenced by the size of the casque or ornamental protruding head piece of the chameleon.

Predators & threats

Cape dwarf chameleon

In the natural environment they are predated on by snakes such as the boom slang, birds such as the fiscal shrike. In urban areas their main predator is the domestic cat, because of the high predator/prey ratio they are deemed to be responsible for the collapse of entire populations of chameleons. The introduced Crow is another urban predator and together with certain garden practices such as hedge trimmers and insecticides kill off many chameleons. Habitat loss is an ongoing threat and unfortunately a lot of protected are fire-prone which puts chameleon populations at risk.