African Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon (Rhinodigitum) acuminatus) / Photo by Christopher V. Anderson
African Pygmy Chameleons

*** Update: Read about the outcome of our proposal.

CITES Proposal | Description | Habitat | Threats | Taxonomy | Additional Information

African pygmy chameleons had long been spared from large-scale exploitation for the international pet trade, possibly as a consequence of trade restrictions for other chameleon taxa. However, they are now commonly offered in the international pet trade, most notably in Europe and the United States. African pygmy chameleons also face threats from extensive and continual habitat alteration and destruction.

These chameleons occur only within continental African counties including Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Burundi, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Uganda, Malawi, Central African Republic, Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia.

CITES Proposal

There are 22 species of African pygmy chameleons, 21 of which are not yet included in the appendices of CITES. These are the only chameleon species not yet included in the CITES appendices; all other chameleons are in Appendix II (except Brookesia perarmata listed in Appendix I).

The United States along with the Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon, Kenya, and Nigeria, have submitted a proposal for consideration at CITES CoP17 that seeks to include these 21 species of African pygmy chameleons (of the genera Rhampholeon spp. and Rieppeleon spp.) in Appendix II.

In the proposal, seven species are proposed for inclusion in Appendix II because of international trade impacts, while 14 species are proposed for inclusion because of their similarity of appearance to the taxa threatened by trade. Identification of species can be confusing because of their similarity in appearance; however, CITES allows for listing “look-alike” taxa to provide better protection for species being impacted by trade.


African pygmy chameleons are small lizards, very similar in appearance to one another. The smallest species, Beraducci’s Pygmy Chameleon (Rhampholeon beraducci), can reach a total length of 35-40 millimeters (1.4 to 1.6 inches), while the largest species, Marshall’s pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon marshalli), can measure over 110 millimeters (4.3 inches).

Although the majority of the species have short, weak to non-prehensile tails, some species have relatively longer tails with significant prehensile function. Their low reproductive rate makes them vulnerable to overharvesting. Coloration consists mainly of shades of grey or brown, often resembling dead leaves; color pattern is not a consistent characteristic to distinguish the species.

African Pygmy Chameleon (Rieppeleon brachyurus) / Credit: Christopher V. Anderson

Pygmy chameleons feed mainly on insects, including beetles, juvenile cockroaches, moths, caterpillars, grasshoppers, woodlice, spiders, termites and flies. Females have been found to exhibit a wider food niche than males.


In general, the majority of pygmy chameleons are restricted to wet, native forests in central and eastern Africa and equatorial forests of the Congo River basin and West Africa. At least seven species are restricted to isolated hills and mountain ranges.


The principal threats for these species are:

• Habitat loss/degradation;
• Climate change (especially for species limited to isolated mountains and hills); and
• Collection for the international pet trade.

Because of their specialized habitat requirements, African pygmy chameleons are highly susceptible to human impacts resulting in the alteration, reduction and loss of overall habitat quality and area.


Order:    Squamata
Family:   Chamaeleonidae
Genus:   Rhampholeon (18 sps.)
Species:  acuminatus

                beraduccii (sa)

                boulengeri (sa)

                bruessoworum (sa)

                chapmanorum (sa)

                gorongosae (sa)

                hattinghi (sa)

                marshalli (sa)

                maspictus (sa)

                moyeri (sa)

                nchisiensis (sa)

                nebulauctor (sa)

                platyceps (sa)



                tilburyi (sa)




Genus:   Rieppeleon (3 sps.)

Species:  brachyurus (sa)




Note: Species marked with (sa) are being proposed for listing due to similarity of appearance.

Additional Information

Read the proposal for consideration of African Pygmy Chameleons at CoP17.

The Taxonomic Checklist for Chameleons is available in two volumes:

* Volume 1

* Volume 2