Chamaeleo africanus is a slightly larger species than Chamaeleo chamaeleon, and is able to reach a total length of 45 cm, including its tail (1). As with all chameleon species, it has a zygodactylous foot structure, with five digits on each limb fused into a group of two and a group of three. The eyelids are fused together and the chameleon is able to move its eyes independently of each other (2). A prehensile tail helps aid movement through the trees, as well as acting like a fifth limb. The tongue can be extended up to twice the length of the body (1). It is able to change its colour rapidly, but the usual colouration is green, with two yellow stripes running down its flanks (3).
The head casque (helmet like crest) is larger in this species when compared to the Common Chameleon. The lobes that are present on the head of the Common Chameleon are lacking in this species (1). There is a spur present on the back of each hind foot in the males (1).
Within the genus of Chamaeleo there are approximately 211 species and sub-species (4). Of these there are only two species that are found in Europe, which are the African and Common Chameleon (Chamaeleo chamaeleon) (1). Although the two species look similar to each other, they do not occur in the same areas of the Mediterranean. The African chameleon is more similar to the species that are found in the Nile Valley, in Egypt (1).
Chamaeleo africanus is a territorial species, and will only seek conspecifics during the breeding season. Males guard their territory fiercely against other males. The chameleon moves in a slow and hesitating manner, in order to resemble a leaf blowing in the wind to aid in camouflage (5).
Gravid (pregnant) females of Chamaeleo africanus will change their body colour to indicate to breeding males that they are no longer receptive (3). Juveniles will take about 12 to 16 months to reach sexual maturity after they have hatched (3). Females lay their eggs in sandy substrates, usually near to beaches (1).
They can usually be found climbing in vegetation such as reeds. They can also be found on the ground, such as when females go to lay their eggs, or males seeking a receptive female (1).
Chamaeleo africanus is mainly found throughout sub-saharan Africa. In Europe there is a small population that is found in the south-western Pelopponnese area of Greece. This population is believed to be an introduction from Egypt (1) (3) (6).
Like most other chameleon species Chamaeleo africanus feeds mainly on arthropods (3).
This species is protected under Appendix II of CITES (7). Under the IUCN red list the African Chameleon has not been evaluated (8).
Description written by Sheridan Willis (2009)
(1) Arnold. E.N. (2004) A field guide to the reptiles and amphibians of Britain and Europe, 2nd ed., Harper Collins Publishers, London
(2) Bennis. M., Repérant. J., Rio. J.P., and Ward. R. (1994) An experimental re-evaluation of the primary visual system of the chameleon, Chamaeleo chamaeleon, Brain, Behaviour and Evolution 43(3): 173- 188
(3) ARKive (2009) Chamaeleo africanus [online] Available:
http://www.arkive.org/sahel-chameleon/chamaeleo-africanus/description.html [date accessed: 30/07/2009]
(4) Zip Code Zoo (2009) Chamaeleo africanus [online] Available:
http://www.zipcodezoo.com/Animals/C/Chamaeleo_africanus/ [date accessed: 30/07/2009]
(5) Ott. M., Schaeffel. F., and Kirmse. W. (1998) Binocular vision and accommodation in prey- catching chameleons, Journal of Comparitive Physiology, 182: 319- 330
(6) Kosuch. J., Vences. M., and Böhme. W. (1999) Mitochondrial DNA sequence support the allocation of Greek mainland chameleons to Chamaeleo africanus, Amphibia-Reptilia, 20: 440- 443
(7) UNEP-WCMC (2009) UNEP-WCMC Species Database CITES-Listed Species, Chamaeleo africanus [online] Available:
http://www.cites.org/eng/resources/species.html [date accessed: 30/07/2009]
(8) IUCN (2009) IUCN Red List of Threatened Species [online] Available:
http://www.iucnredlist.org [date accessed: 30/07/2009]