Leaf chameleon (Brookesia desperata)

Brookesia desperata

Top facts

  • Brookesia desperata is able to quickly change the colour of its body when under stress.
  • Like other Brookesia chameleons, Brookesia desperata uses its tail like a ‘fifth leg’ when walking.
  • Brookesia desperata is named desperata from the Latin word ‘desperatus’, meaning ‘desperate’. This is due to the worrying habitat destruction occurring within this species’ range.
  • A defining feature of Brookesia desperata is the presence of three enlarged bumps on its head.
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Leaf chameleon fact file

Leaf chameleon description

GenusBrookesia (1)

Brookesia desperata belongs to the leaf chameleon genus Brookesia, species of which are also known as the dwarf chameleons. This species was first discovered in 2007 in northern Madagascar, along with three other new leaf chameleon species, and all were formally described in 2012 (1).

The head, back and tail of the miniature Brookesia desperata are light grey, in contrast to the sides of the body which vary between beige, brown and dark brown. A darkened colouration, along with the presence of dark brown spots on the sides and almost entirely dark brown limbs, is believed to be a stress colouration in this species. Brookesia desperata is able to change colour rapidly in response to stress, a trait characteristic of most chameleons. Variation in the colour of this species has been observed, with some individuals having an almost entirely beige-coloured body, a slightly lighter forehead and a stripe down the back.

Lines of pointed tubercles run down the body, on either side of the spine, and there are also distinct spines on each side of the tail. This species is set apart from other Brookesia species by three enlarged tubercles on its head. Like other Brookesia species, Brookesia desperata is distinguished from other chameleons by its short, non-prehensile tail (1)

Male total length: 39.7 - 42.9 mm (1)
Female total length: 43.3 - 47.6 mm (1)
Male snout-vent length: 25 - 26.7 mm (1)
Female snout-vent length: 27.3 - 30 mm (1)

Leaf chameleon biology

Described as an arboreal species (4), Brookesia desperata has been found resting on small branches or leaves at night, approximately 5 to 100 centimetres above ground. This species appeared to be present in high abundance within its extremely restricted habitat (1). There is currently no information available on the diet of Brookesia desperata.

Although relatively little is known on the reproductive behaviour of Brookesia desperata, one female specimen laid two large eggs (1).

Like other members of the Brookesia genus, Brookesia desperata may be representing a case of island dwarfism, a phenomenon whereby a species adapts over time to being restricted to a particular habitat, for example an island, by becoming smaller (5).


Leaf chameleon range

Brookesia desperata is known only from the Forêt d’Ambre Special Reserve in Antsiranana Province, northern Madagascar (1).


Leaf chameleon habitat

Brookesia desperata is restricted to the disturbed rainforest of the Forêt d’Ambre Special Reserve (1). This reserve is subject to distinct seasonal variation, with a fairly long dry season followed by a wet season that runs from December until April each year. Both lowland rainforest and dry deciduous forest are present within the reserve, and Brookesia desperata is typically found at elevations of between 400 and 500 metres above sea level (4). This species was also found on banana plants at the edge of forest clearings (1).


Leaf chameleon status

Brookesia desperata has not yet been classified by the IUCN, but all Brookesia species are listed on Appendix II of CITES (2) (3).


Leaf chameleon threats

Despite Brookesia desperata’s presence within a nature reserve, the future of this species is in jeopardy (1). The Forêt d’Ambre Special Reserve was established in 1958, and is identified as a site of high conservation importance for the region’s endemic amphibian and reptile species. At present the reserve is subject to immediate threat from habitat clearance for the cultivation of banana, coffee, rice, maize and papaya. Forest clearance for charcoal and timber production, quarrying and cattle grazing is also destroying the integrity of this habitat (4).

Forest clearance results in habitat fragmentation, which can have severe consequences for reptile and amphibian species, potentially causing local or even complete species extinction (4)


Leaf chameleon conservation

There are no specific conservation measures currently in place for Brookesia desperata. The establishment of the Forêt d’Ambre as a special reserve appears to have been relatively ineffective in protecting the area’s tropical biodiversity (1), and it is abundantly clear that further conservation management is needed. Immediate action has been suggested in the form of training forest wardens to patrol the area, monitoring and restricting forest clearance, and developing small-scale ecotourism as a more sustainable use of the park (4).

Scientists also highlight the importance of raising local awareness of environmental issues and sustainable agricultural practice in the region (4)


Find out more

Find out more about Brookesia desperata:

More information on the Forêt d’Ambre Special Reserve:



This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:



An animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
Deciduous forest
Forest consisting mainly of deciduous trees, which shed their leaves at the end of the growing season.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Capable of grasping.
Tubercle (tubercles)
A small, rounded, wart-like bump on the skin or on a bone.


  1. Glaw, F., Köhler, J., Townsend, T.M. and Vences, M. (2012) Rivaling the world’s smallest reptiles: discovery of miniaturized and microendemic new species of leaf chameleons (Brookesia) from northern Madagascar. PLoS ONE, 7(2): 1-24. Available at:
  2. CITES (January, 2013)
  3. Carpenter, A.I. and Robson, O. (2005) A review of the endemic chameleon genus Brookesia from Madagascar, and the rationale for its listing on CITES Appendix II. Oryx, 39(4): 375-380.
  4. D’Cruze, N., Köhler, J., Franzen, M. And Glaw, F. (2008) A conservation assessment of the amphibians and reptiles of the Forêt d’Ambre Special Reserve, north Madagascar. MadagascarConservation and Development, 3(1): 44-54. Available at:

Image credit

Brookesia desperata  
Brookesia desperata

© Jörn Köhler

Jörn Köhler
Department of Zoology
Hessisches Landesmuseum
Friedensplatz 1
Fax: +49 (6151) 165765


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