New data on the international trade in chameleons

New data on the international trade in chameleons


Researchers from several universities recently analysed the international trade in chameleons. The focus was on Tanzania in East Africa. Tanzania is currently home to 41 of the 228 known species, making it the country with the second-highest number of chameleon species after Madagascar.

The study was based on the publicly accessible CITES trade database and the annual reports of the countries participating in the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Chameleons exported for scientific or non-commercial purposes were excluded. In addition, the most frequently clicked websites on the Internet in the form of English-language sales platforms, social media and forums were searched for sale and purchase adverts for chameleons using Google and “[species] for sale”. A total of 14 websites of commercial sellers, two online forums, two advertising websites, four social media sites and seven closed groups in social media were analysed. As a third pillar of the study, villagers in the Eastern Arc Mountains in Tanzania were interviewed using a questionnaire with eleven questions.

The general result of the study is that the international trade in chameleons fell rapidly between 2000 and 2019. At the same time, the number of chameleons bred in captivity increased. The number of “ranched” chameleons, i.e. chameleons bred on a farm in the country of origin for export, fell slightly. The largest export factor was commercial trade, with almost all species being exported directly from their countries of origin and not via other intermediaries in other countries. From 2000 to 2019, a total of 327,522 chameleons were legally traded. Only six countries accounted for 91% of exports: Tanzania, Madagascar, Mozambique, Uganda, Ghana and Cameroon. Tanzania was the country from which the most chameleons were traded, accounting for 34% of all exports. The country to which most chameleon exports went was the USA with 46%. The USA thus received almost half of all chameleons traded under CITES worldwide between 2000 and 2019. Other countries with relatively high numbers of chameleon imports were Japan (13%) and Germany (10%).

Six chameleon species from Tanzania were particularly sought after. Together they accounted for 85% of the trade in chameleons in the period mentioned. Kinyongia fischeri and Kinyongia tavetana were exported most frequently, followed by Trioceros werneri, Trioceros deremensis and Trioceros fuelleborni. Of the 42 species occurring in Tanzania, 35 were found for sale on online platforms and 29 were regularly on sales lists.

The on-site surveys in Tanzania revealed that only two out of three mountain ranges observed had participated in the trade in chameleons (East Usambara and Uluguru). As Tanzania has suspended its exports indefinitely since 2016, the majority of respondents stated that there is currently no longer any trade in chameleons. Interestingly, the villagers stated that they had collected 13 species for trade, but 7 of these species never appeared on the official exports for Tanzania. The answers to the question of how many chameleons of which species were traded also differed significantly from the official figures in the perception of the local population: While locals reported “thousands” of chameleons with one horn as supposedly collected annually, only very isolated ones of these were actually exported. There may also be a strong divergence here due to a lack of species differentiation.

Trade routes in Tanzania could be traced quite well through the interviews. In general, traders from Muheza and Morogoro came to the Usambaa and Uluguru mountains and gave the villagers a desired number of certain species (selected according to “one horn, two horns, three horns or giant”). A time limit was set, after which the traders returned and transported the collected chameleons to Dar es Salaam for export. One trader was questioned more intensively and stated that his father had already traded in chameleons. He had also never seen a collection permit, even though his clients always emphasised that they had one. The middlemen and collectors had no interest in what the collected chameleons were to be used for, only what was paid for them. Even a middleman only received 0.4 US dollars per chameleon.

Status and trends in the international wildlife trade in Chameleons with a focus on Tanzania
Maxim Conrad Isaac, Neil D. Burgess, Oliver J.S. Tallowin, Alyson T. Pavitt, Reuben M. J. Kadigi, Claire Ract
PLoS ONE 19(5), 2024.
DOI: 10.1371

Picture: Kinygonia tavetana, photographed by Elizabeth Dougherty, Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International

Spines of tree- and ground-dwelling chameleons

Spines of tree- and ground-dwelling chameleons

Tiermedizin Science

Various anatomical adaptations of the spine between ground and tree dwellers are known from mammals, especially primates. In some cases, the different vertebrae are even associated with certain movement patterns and bodily functions. In a comparative study, two scientists from New York (USA) have now investigated how the spine of ground- and tree-dwelling chameleons differs.

They measured the already existing CT scans on of a total of 28 chameleons of different species. Brookesia perarmata, Brookesia superciliaris, Brookesia thieli, Palleon nasus, Rhampholeon platyceps, Rhampholeon spectrum, Rieppeleon brevicaudatus and Rieppeleon kerstenii were classified as ground dwellers. Archaius tigris, Bradypodion melanocephalum, Bradypodion pumilum, Bradypodion thamnobates, Calumma amber, Calumma brevicorne, Calumma parsonii, Chamaeleo calyptratus, Chamaeleo gracilis, hamaeleo zeylanicus, Furcifer lateralis, Furcifer pardalis, Furcifer verrucosus, Kinyongia carpenteri, Kinyongia tavetana, Kinyongia xenorhina, Nadzikambia mlanjensis, Trioceros feae, Trioceros jacksonii and Trioceros quadricornis were considered arboreal. The vertebrae were counted and the width of the lamina, length, width, height of the vertebral body, and the height of the spinous process and transverse processes on each vertebra were measured. In addition, the so-called prezygapophysial angle was determined. This is the angle of the intervertebral joint, i.e. the contact surfaces between the individual vertebrae. The measurements of ground and tree dwellers were compared and statistically evaluated. Only the vertebral column of the trunk was considered, the caudal vertebral column was left out.

First of all, the results showed that ground-dwelling chameleons generally have fewer trunk vertebrae (15 to 19) than tree-dwelling chameleons (18 to 23). The trunk spine of almost all species could be divided into the already known three areas: Cervical spine and anterior and posterior dorsal spine. A thoracic and lumbar spine as in mammals is generally not distinguished in chameleons because of the continuous ribs. Five chameleon species had four regions instead of three: they had an anterior and a posterior cervical spine, the anterior one consisting of only two vertebrae with rib processes. Six chameleon species had two additional lumbar vertebrae and one species had three transitional vertebrae in the region between the cervical and dorsal spine. In Kinyongia carpenteri, a total of five regions could be distinguished in the trunk spine: The chameleon had anterior and posterior cervical vertebrae as well as anterior and posterior dorsal vertebrae and two additional lumbar vertebrae. Brookesia perarmata was also a special case: the trunk spine of this chameleon consisted of only two regions and at the same time the smallest number of vertebrae of all species studied.

The greatest differences between ground and tree-dwelling chameleons were found in the prezygapophyseal angle (PZA) and the height of the spinous process. The intervertebral joint surfaces in the anterior dorsal vertebrae of tree-dwelling chameleons were clearly more dorsoventrally oriented and smaller than in ground-dwelling species. Several tree-dwellers showed a PZA of less than 90°. In tree-dwelling chameleons, the largest spinous processes were located at the transition from the cervical to the dorsal spine. Among the ground-dwelling species, the spinous processes were similar only in Palleon nasus. In ground-dwelling chameleons, the appearance of the spinous process varied greatly. Rieppeleon, for example, showed narrow, backward-sloping spinous processes, while the spinous processes in Brookesia were more like a kind of bone bridge than a process. Archaius tigris was an exception: The spinous processes in this chameleon hardly differed along the entire spine.

The authors conclude from the results that the anatomy of the different vertebrae is strongly related to the chameleons’ way of life and different locomotion. The intervertebral joint surfaces in tree-dwelling chameleons are probably important for climbing by supporting the function of the shoulder girdle. Reduced mobility in the mediolateral plane provides greater trunk stiffness, which facilitates climbing in arboreal dwellers. Stiffening of the axial skeleton (skull, trunk spine and thorax) is also known from tree-dwelling mammals. The larger spinous processes in larger chameleons could facilitate shoulder girdle rotation and muscle movement, resulting in increased stride length, better head support, and thus possibly easier feeding.

Morphological and functional regionalization of trunk vertebrae as an adaption for arboreal locomotion in chameleons
Julia Molnar, Akinobu Watanabe
Royal Society Open Science 10, 2023: 221509
DOI: 10.1098/rsos.221509

Illustration: Spines of different chameleon species

Species diversification in chameleons

Species diversification in chameleons


From earlier studies, we know that the first chameleons evolved in the late Cretaceous, about 90 million years ago, on mainland of Africa. Around the border between the Cretaceous and Tertiary periods, about 65 million years ago, different species began to evolve. It is still unclear today which factors contributed to the diversity of species. Two researchers from Swansea University in Wales have now used various computational models of phylogenetics to investigate what might have influenced diversification (the splitting of chameleons into many different species).

First, they studied the diversification of chameleon species in Madagascar. In terms of evolutionary history, there are two points in time when chameleons apparently spread across the sea from mainland Africa to Madagascar. One is about 65 million years in the past, the other 45 million years. You could now think that the climatically extremely different habitats in Madagascar could have driven the evolution of the species very quickly after the spread across the sea. To the surprise of the researchers, however, no evidence of this was found. The species richness of chameleons on Madagascar must therefore come from the fact that chameleons spread there very early and thus simply had much more time to develop into different species than elsewhere.

Furthermore, the researchers investigated whether switching between two ecomorphs – from ground-dwelling stub-tailed chameleons to tree-dwelling chameleons with longer tails – had an impact on species diversity. Rather surprisingly, this did not seem to be the case. The evolution to tree-dwellers with longer tails occurred relatively early on one or two occasions. No evidence could be found that different ecomorphs accelerated diversification. Instead, speciation rates were found to slow down progressively over the last 60 million years. Only a very early dispersal event of the genus Bradypodion in South Africa around 10 million years ago was accompanied by a two- to fourfold diversification rate.

As a third focus of the study, the researchers examined the genus Bradypodion. During the climate change in the Miocene around 10 million years ago, South Africa changed a lot. Forests disappeared, leaving behind isolated forest habitats and, in between, savannahs, some of which are now so-called hot spots of biodiversity. Two of them, the Cape Floristic Region at the southwestern tip of South Africa and Maputuland-Pondoland-Albany on the east coast of South Africa, are home to a particularly large number of Bradypodion species. Each species is limited to a geographically very clearly defined area. The researchers, therefore, suspect that Bradypodion species have actually evolved faster under the influence of habitat change. It should be noted that the diversification rate of the genus Bradypodion is probably rather underestimated, as there are still many hidden species to be assumed.

Diversification dynamics of chameleons (Chamaeleonidae)
Stephen Giles, Kevin Arbuckle
Journal of Zoology, 2022
DOI: 10.1111/jzo.13019

Neue Art der Gattung Kinyongia beschrieben

General topics

Aus dem Magombera Forest im Udzungwa Mountains National Park, süd-zentral Tansania, wird eine neue Chamäleonart,  Kinyongia magomberae sp. nov. (das Magombera Chamäleon), beschrieben.
Das neue Chamäleon ist K. tenuis und dem weiterverbreiteten, im Eastern Arc endemischen K. oxyrhina, durch seinen einzelnen rostralen Anhang ähnlich.
Es kann jedoch durch den kürzeren rostralen Anhang und das Fehlen einer beweglichen Spitze von diesen beiden Arten unterschieden werden.
K. magomberae sp. nov. ist, nur von zwei Orten bekannt, dem flachen und ungeschützten Magombera Forest und dem sub-montanen Mwanihana Forest innerhalb des Udzungwa Mountains National Park.

Michele Menegon, Krystal Tolley, Trevor Jones, Francesco Rovero, Andrew R. Marshall & Colin R. Tilbury (2009):
A new species of chameleon (Sauria: Chamaeleonidae: Kinyongia) from the Magombera forest and the Udzungwa Mountains National Park, Tanzania.
African Journal of Herpetology, 2009 58(2): 59-70

Neue Art der Gattung Kinyongia beschrieben

General topics

Kinyongia vanheygeni (NECAS, 2009)

Die 2002 erstmals von NAGY in den Tansanianischen Poroto-
Bergen entdeckte „neue“ Chamäleonart wurde jetzt von Petr NECAS anhand von Fotos (VAN HEYGEN, 2008) und einem toten Tier beschrieben und in die Gattung Kinyongia gestellt.

Kinyongia vanheygeni erreicht eine Gesamtlänge von nur etwa 15 cm und trägt einen Rostralfortsatz mit zwei parallel verlaufenden Längsreihen aus je drei vergrößerten Schuppen. Auffällig ist der hoch aufragende nach hinten und oben gewölbte Helm.
Die Tiere sind farblich unauffällig in Gelb- Braun- Grau- und Grüntönen gefärbt.

Bisher wurde nur ein männliches Tier lebend gefunden und fotografiert. – Eine ausführliche Beschreibung folgt in einer der nächsten Ausgaben der Chamaeleo.

Quelle: Ein neues Chamäleon der Gattung Kinyongia Tilbury, Tolley & Branch 2006 aus den Poroto-Bergen, Süd-Tansania (Reptilia: Sauria: Chamaeleonidae)