The oldest chameleon in the World

The oldest chameleon in the World

Internationaler Chamäleontag

The oldest chameleon in the world comes from Myanmar. More precisely, it was discovered by chance. Myanmar has had commercial amber mines from the Cretaceous period for over a century – probably the only country in the world to do so. The most productive mines of this amber, known as “Burmite”, are located in the Hukawng valley in Kachin in northern Myanmar. These mainly supply the Chinese market, but some are also sold directly to interested private individuals. For years, scientists have repeatedly made highly interesting palaeontological finds among the amber sold.

The chameleon in question, along with other fossils encased in amber, was sold to jewellers who cut the stones into cabochons, a type of gemstone. From there, the pieces were sold to private individuals, including James Zigras and Scott Anderson, private collectors. Scientists were allowed to analyse the ambers and put them in a CT scanner, among other things. It turned out that the little chameleon must have been a juvenile. Almost the entire skeleton and almost the entire skin are preserved. It is only 10.6 mm long and the claws in particular are very well preserved. The overall habitus of the animal suggests that it was a chameleon, only the teeth and the arrangement of the fingers and toes do not quite match today’s chameleons. It is now assumed that this chameleon is over 99 million years old and has been in amber for this long. Of course, it is not a species of chameleon that exists today, but it is a relative. It is called a “protochameleon”, which means it is a precursor to our modern chameleons. In the picture above, the chameleon can be seen at the bottom right, in the amber measuring 1 cm below. This amber is still in a private collection and not in a museum.

…to clarify another question that you have probably asked yourself, but which has not yet been answered: As far as we know, Parson’s Chameleons from Madagascar are the oldest of all chameleons. Individual males that are over 20 years old are known from herpetoculture.

#show your colours #internationalchameleonday #chameleonday #chameleondayMay9 #agchamaeleons

Photo: Various fossils in amber, source: Juan D. Daza, Edward L. Stanley, Philipp Wagner, Aaron M. Bauer, David A. Grimald; Mid-Cretaceous amber fossils illuminate the pastdiversity of tropical lizards, Download

Addendum: Unfortunately, it has since emerged that the little creature in the amber is not a chameleon at all. The oldest chameleon is therefore not from Myanmar after all!


Fossil finds of Chamaeleo chamaeleon in Morocco

Fossil finds of Chamaeleo chamaeleon in Morocco


There have only been a few fossil finds of reptiles from Morocco so far, especially concerning Agama bibronii and Chamaeleo chamaeleon. Archaeologists from the National Institute of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage (Institut National des Sciences de l’Archéologie et du Patrimoine, INSAP) in Rabat, Morocco, have now published an overview of Moroccan finds.

The rock cave of Ifri n’Ammar belongs to the Rif mountain range, which runs about 50 km away from the northeast coast of Morocco and is part of the Atlas Mountains. Ifri n’Ammar is located in a valley south of the town of Afso, on the border of two wadis. Since 1997, excavations have been led there by INSAP and the German Commission for Archaeology of Non-European Cultures (KAAK). Two Os prefrontale, two Os postorbitofrontale, three Os maxillare (upper jaw), six pieces of bone with acrodont teeth, and three vertebrae could be assigned to the family Chamaeleonidae so far. The distinction from fossil remains of agamas was quite clear: agamas have pleurodont teeth in the anterior region of the maxilla, whereas chameleons have only acrodont teeth. In addition, the shape and position of the nostrils differ. Agamas also do not have the bony tubercles and “crests” typical of chameleons. Since Chamaeleo chamaeleo is the only representative of the chameleons found in the Maghreb today, the fossils were attributed to this species.

The fossils were all found in a layer at a depth of three meters, which is assigned to the Middle Stone Age. The fossil remains are therefore between 83,000 and 171,000 years old, which is considerably older than the remains discovered so far for chameleons in Morocco (Tarofalt, Guenfouda) and Algeria (Gueldaman). The archaeologists assume that at that time the area around the site must have still been tree-covered.

It is partly questionable how the pieces of bone from Ifri n’Ammar arrived at the finding sites. Traces on some bones indicate digestion processes and thus that the associated chameleons were consumed as prey. So not all of the chameleons found there died a natural death. According to the traces, birds of prey and small carnivores such as the gundi (a North African rodent) or simply rats could be possible predators.

Agama bibronii (Sauria: Agamidae) et Chamaeleo chamaeleon (Sauria: Chamaeleonidae) d’Ifri n’Ammar (Rif oriental, Maroc)
Touria Moushine, Fethi Amani, Abdeslam Mikdad
Quaternaire 33 (03), 2022
DOI: 10.4000/quaternaire.16948