Minute leaf chameleon (Brookesia minima)

Minute leaf chameleon on a finger
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Minute leaf chameleon fact file

Minute leaf chameleon description

GenusBrookesia (1)

Often considered to be the smallest species of the diminutive stump-tailed chameleons, (Brookesia species), the minute leaf chameleon (Brookesia minima) is one of the smallest reptiles in the world (3). The cylindrical body is camouflaged in shades of green, brown and grey, often with a lichen-like striped pattern. Often there is a pale beige patch on the chameleon’s front, believed to play a role in communication or mate recognition. The tiny head is relatively flat with a short, downwards pointing snout, and a row of small, spiny scales runs along each side of the backbone. Male minute dwarf chameleons are shorter in length and have a longer tail than females (2).

Male total length: up to 28 mm (2)
Female total length: up to 33 mm (2)

Minute leaf chameleon biology

As expected for its tiny size, the minute leaf chameleon consumes minute prey, including small fruit flies, white flies and spring tails.  When not foraging in the deep leaf litter, the minute leaf chameleon climbs up onto thin branches to sleep.  When threatened by a predator, or the branch on which it is perched is shaken, the minute leaf chameleon will drop to the ground like a piece of dead wood and feign death until the danger has passed (5).

Courtship in the minute leaf chameleon begins with a male walking around a female making nodding and rocking movements. Non-receptive females react with jerky side movements, causing the male to cease his advances, while a receptive female allows the male to follow them throughout the day. After a lengthy courtship, which could last up to several days, the male mounts the female and is carried on her back until copulation takes place in late evening or night.  30 to 40 days following mating, the female deposits a clutch of two eggs, a few millimetres deep in the substrate. Hatching takes place around three months later (2).


Minute leaf chameleon range

The minute leaf chameleon occurs in parts of northern and north-western Madagascar.  As this chameleon is a difficult species to identify correctly with the naked eye, only populations inhabiting the offshore island of Nosy Be and the neighbouring mainland can be said with certainty to be this species of Brookesia (2) (4).


Minute leaf chameleon habitat

The minute leaf chameleon inhabits the leaf litter of evergreen primary rainforest.  It prefers areas with sparse undergrowth, where there is a layer of dead leaves up to ten centimetres deep (2).


Minute leaf chameleon status

The minute leaf chameleon is listed on Appendix II of CITES (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Minute leaf chameleon threats

Brookesia chameleons are mainly threatened by habitat destruction. The humid forests of Madagascar are being degraded by agriculture, timber extraction, and industrial and small-scale mining (6). As a result, the specific habitat of the minute leaf chameleon is rapidly declining and may disappear with continued disturbance (2).

Although the minute leaf chameleon may be harvested for the pet trade, this is unlikely to be threatening its survival. In 2001, 162 minute leaf chameleons were exported from Madagascar for the pet trade, but the annual export quota in 2010 was zero (7) (8).


Minute leaf chameleon conservation

The minute leaf chameleonis listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that trade in this species should be carefully controlled in order to be compatible with their survival (1). The minute leaf chameleonhas also been recorded from the Manongarivo Special Reserve (2) and the Lokobe Special Reserve (4), although illegal harvesting or other activities that degrade the forest habitat may lessen any benefits this bestows. 

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

Find out more

For further information on the minute leaf chameleon see:

  • Nečas, P. and Schmidt, W. (2004) Stump-tailed chameleons. Miniature Dragons of the Rainforest. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt.


Authenticated (07/03/11) by Dr Richard Jenkins, Madagasikara Voakajy, Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology, University of Kent.



Primary rainforest
Rainforest that has remained undisturbed for a long time and has reached a mature condition.


  1. CITES (July, 2007)
  2. Nečas, P. and Schmidt, W. (2004) Stump-tailed chameleons. Miniature Dragons of the Rainforest. Edition Chimaira, Frankfurt.
  3. The Reptile Database (February, 2008)
  4. Glaw, F., Vences, M., Ziegler, T., Bohme, W. and Kohler, J. (1999) Specific distinctness and biogeography of the dwarf chameleons Brookesia minima, B. peyrierasi and B. tuberculata (Reptilia: Chamaeleonidae): evidence from hemipenal and external morphology. Journal of Zoology, 247: 225-238.
  5. Raxworthy, C.J. (1991) Field observations on some dwarf chameleons (Brookesia spp.) from rainforest areas of Madagascar, with the description of a new species. Journal of Zoology, 224: 11-25.
  6. Conservation International: Biodiversity Hotspots (February, 2008)
  7. 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): 345-380.
  8. Jenkins, R.K.B. (March, 2011) Pers. comm.

Image credit

Minute leaf chameleon on a finger  
Minute leaf chameleon on a finger

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