The microbiome of dwarf chameleons

The microbiome of dwarf chameleons

Tiermedizin Science

The term microbiome has been very popular for some years now. In humans and animals, it refers to the totality of all microorganisms that colonise a living being. Most of them colonise the gastrointestinal tract. In the case of chameleons, there is only very limited literature on this topic. A master’s thesis from South Africa now deals with the bacterial composition of the microbiome in South African dwarf chameleons of the genus Bradypodion.

60 cheek swabs were collected from wild chameleons in KwaZulu-Natal. Of these, 20 were cheek swabs from Bradypodion melanocephalum, 20 from Bradypodion thamnobates and 20 from Bradypodion setaroi. After sampling, the same 60 animals were transported in cloth bags to the research base, where the animals were kept in 3.3 l boxes for 24 hours to obtain faecal samples. Since not all of the original 60 chameleons defecated, faeces were collected from additional chameleons.

The samples were all genetically tested. 40.43% of the samples contained Firmicutes, a similarly large proportion of the samples contained Proteobacteria with 36.86%. Bacteroidota followed with some distance, which could be detected in just under 16% of the samples. Verrucomicrobiota, Fusobacteriota, Actinobateriota, Spirochetes, Desulfobacteroa, Cyanobacteria, Thermoplamatota, Deferribacterota, Synergistota, Campylobacterota, Deinococcota, Halobacterota, Euryarchaeota, Elusimicrobiota and Myxococcota were found in significantly smaller numbers (up to 2%).

The microbiome of dwarf chameleons of the species Bradypodion melanocephalum, Bradypodion thamnobates and Bradypodion setaroi is similar to that of other reptiles. It consists mainly of proteobacteria and firmicutes, which may contribute to digestion. One particular bacterial species also suggests that the diet of the studied dwarf chameleons may include beetles of the genus Dendrophagus. The microbiome of all three dwarf chameleon species was very similar in the cheek swabs – this is called phylosymbiosis – while there were differences in composition between the species in the faeces. In all three dwarf chameleon species, significantly more different bacteria were found in the faeces than in the cheek swabs. A comparison between males and females did not reveal any significant differences in the microbiome of all three chameleon species. The author assumes that the bacterial species depend on the different habitats of the respective species. It is still unclear to what extent the microbiome is related to bacteria that a chameleon may ingest with feeding insects or from the soil of its environment. A detailed list of the bacterial species found can be found in the appendix of the publication.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to dwarf chameleons (Bradypodion): The composition and function of the microbiome
Matthew G. Adair
Master of Science dissertation at the university of Johannesburg, 2023
DOI: not available

Factors in the geographical dispersal of chameleons

Factors in the geographical dispersal of chameleons


For a long time, people have been trying to find out how and why chameleons have spread across the African continent, to islands and as far as Europe and Asia. French scientists, in collaboration with international colleagues, have now used phylogenetics and various computational models to investigate how the factors of body size, coastal habitat and extreme lifestyles may have affected the distribution of different chameleon species. The study examined 181 species divided into nine main biogeographical regions: North Africa and Arabia, Central Africa, Southeast Africa, Southwest Africa, India, Socotra, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles.

Chameleon species that occurred more than 10 km from the sea historically spread significantly less than the 74 coastal chameleon species. A similar phenomenon is known from skinks and crocodiles. Dispersal probably took place mainly along the coasts, mostly on the same continent and only rarely across the water to other continents or islands.

The size of the different chameleons also seems to have influenced their dispersal throughout history: Large chameleons spread further and more frequently than small chameleons. This could be related to the fact that larger chameleons have a lower metabolic rate – so they need less energy overall relative to smaller competitors. In addition, larger chameleons lay clutches with significantly more eggs, which simply gives them an advantage in numbers.

A somewhat unexpected result came from the study of different life cycles. One would initially assume that short life cycles are associated with faster dispersal. In fact, the calculations showed that especially chameleon species with extreme life cycles spread further. Thus, those that reproduced particularly slowly or particularly quickly were historically more successful among chameleons than the species “in the middle”. In this regard, the authors consider whether particularly slow life cycles with late sexual maturity and long gestation might be more successful on the same continent, while faster reproductive strategies with large clutches are more favourable for dispersal across the sea to islands and other continents. In line with this, Furcifer polleni and Furcifer cephalolepis in Comoros and Chamaeleo zeylanicus in India, all three examples of aquatic dispersal, have a very fast life cycle.

The 34 chameleon species with the combination of living close to the coast, large size and extreme life cycle had a 98% higher dispersal rate than species without these characteristics.  All in all, this is certainly a very theoretical study, but it nevertheless provides exciting insights into the historical distribution and dispersal of chameleons.

Chameleon biogeographic dispersal is associated with extreme life history strategies
Sarah-Sophie Weil, Laurie Gallien, Sébastien Lavergne, Luca Börger, Gabriel W. Hassler, Michaël P.J. Nicolaï & William L. Allen
DOI: 10.1111/ecog.06323