Natal Midlands Dwarf Chameleon

The Natal Midlands Dwarf Chameleon (Bradypodion thamnobates), also known under the longer common name of KwaZulu-Natal Midlands Dwarf Chameleon, is a chameleon native to woodland habitat in the Midlands area of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Its length is 7.6 cm. They have bulbous scales of varying colors scattered around the body. Their head crests are yellow, with white skin on their throat. Males have a short orange stripe around the middle of their body and red spotted eyelids, whereas females are brown with smaller helmet-like protrusions.

This is a very close relative of the Black-headed Dwarf Chameleon (B. melanocephalum), which looks very different due to adptation to low forest and fynbos on the slopes and cliffs seawards from B. thamnobates range. It was hypothesized that B. melanocephalum and B. thamnobates may be phenotypically plastic populations of the same species, however juveniles of both species were raised under identical conditions and developed into what was phenotypically expected of their original populations, indicating that they are separate species.

An undescribed dwarf chameleon population from Gilboa and Karkloof Forests in KwaZulu-Natal seems closely related to both B. melanocephalum and B. thamnobates. It appears as if they radiated quite recently from a common ancestor, which probably was much like the Midlands form in appearance (as this is the most plesiomorphic of them). Indeed, there is indication of ongoing gene flow or incomplete lineage sorting between these populations. Thus it is not certain whether they constitute one, three, or even more species, and more research is required.

The range of the Midlands and Gilboa Forest populations and that of the Drakensberg Dwarf Chameleon (B. dracomontanum) require delimitation as they appear to touch in eastern Lesotho and adjacent South Africa. The Drakensberg species is not closely related to the KwaZulu-Natal group however, and there seems to be no significant gene flow between them.

The Natal Midlands Dwarf Chameleon is classified as a Near Threatened species by the IUCN. It is used in local folk medicine.

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