This page highlights some of the reptile species of Madagascar.
With over 300 reptile species, Madagascar ranks tenth in the world for
reptile diversity. But more importantly, more than 90% of those species
are endemic (meaning they are found nowhere else in the world). The most
studied of Madagascar's reptiles are the chameleons; the island is home to both
the world's largest and the world's smallest chameleon. Geckos are also
well represented, as are snakes. Amazingly, when the land mass of
Madagascar broke off from Africa, none of the poisonous snakes ended up on
Madagascar, which means all the snakes on the island are venom-free.
Photos are all credit Amanda Hacking, with the exception of the Leaf Gecko,
the Nile Crocodile and the Boa.
Green Day Gecko of Madagascar
One of the most commonly seen reptiles in Madagascar is the colorful Green
Day Gecko Phelsuma Agrandis Madagascarensis (right) with its red
facial bars and red markings on the lower back. Day geckos live in all
forested parts of Madagascar, and are not endangered. Most geckos are tan,
brown and/or black, with the exception of the beautiful Madagascar Green Day
Gecko. Perhaps it is one of the most commonly seen because it is so easy
Geckos are lizards, in the family Gekkonidae. There are more than 800 gecko
species in the world and they are found in tropical and semi-tropical Asia,
Africa, Madagascar, South and Central America and many oceanic islands. They
have broad toes which you might think have sticky glue on the bottom, given that
they can walk on vertical surfaces and upside down on ceilings of homes. But in
fact, the bottoms of their toes are covered in bushy scales that create
friction, letting them cling to even smooth slippery surfaces. Most
lizards are silent except for a hissing sound. Geckos make a
clicking sound that gave them their name "gecko". Geckos' eyes are covered
by a thin transparent membrane. To keep this membrane clean, they lick it
with their thick and sticky tongues. Geckos live in tropical and
semi-tropical parts of the world. They lay 2 white eggs. Their diet
consists of insects, and they are often found in homes where they are assured of
a variety of household insects to eat.
||Geckos vary in length from 1.5 to 25 cm (0.5 to
10 inches) and are harmless to humans. In fact in the rainforests of Montagne
d'Ambre, this small tan gecko (right) wasn't the least bit worried about
walking on a human arm or hand. Like all lizards, geckos can lose their
tails, which is a defensive adaptation. Predators may bite down on the
tail, but if they do, that's all they get. The gecko can grow its tail
back! On some individuals you can see the distinct line between tail and
body where the regenerated tail has grown.
|As we hiked around northern Madagascar's Réserve Spéciale de l'Ankárana
our guide stopped suddenly and said, "Oh, you are so lucky today."
Then he just stood still as we looked around for the animal he had
spotted. Finally we saw it, a brown Flat Gecko
Uroplatus Henkely (far left) that was amazingly camouflaged
against a tree trunk. With deeply ridged skin, this gecko
easily imitates bark. It was about 15mm (6") long.
The flattened tail of the Leaftailed Gecko Uroplatus
fimbriatus (left) is its outstanding feature, allowing
it to be camouflaged amongst leaves.
||Later in the day the guide stopped by a tree
and made the same comment about it being our lucky day.
This time we found the gecko (possibly Homopholus sakalava,
right) very quickly as it stood out from the tree truck more
obviously than the Flat Gecko had. You can see the rounded
toes on the feet which all geckos have. This gecko was about
15mm (6") long.
Chameleons are also lizards, in the family Chamaeleontidae.
World-wide there are about 85 species found in Africa, Madagascar, southern Asia
and southern Europe. Madagascar alone is home to 50 of those 85 species
giving it more than any where else in the world. The most striking feature
of these relatively small lizards, is that they can change color. In
response to fear, temperature or environment their body produces hormones which
change the pigment in the cells of their skin. While it is popularly
thought that they change color to match their surroundings, it is not always the
case. Chameleons feed on insects which they catch with their long sticky
tongue. The tongue is kept retracted in the mouth until it is shot forward
at incredible speed to strike its prey. The chameleon's two eyes operate
independently of each other, allowing it to search for prey (and watch for
predators) in many directions at once. Once it sees a tasty insect it
brings both eyes to focus on the animal so that it gets excellent depth of field
for good aim. Chameleons are well adapted to living in trees, being able
to raise their bodies up to move about, to grasp branches with their strong
tails and their specialized feet that have 3 toes opposing 2 (which is called
||The lovely small chameleon, Caloma Ambre is found in
the deep rainforests in Montagne d'Ambre National Park in northern
Madagascar. While in the sun, on a finger, it
displayed very pale coloring, but once returned to the shade of a bush it
quickly began to change so that it was camouflaged in the darker
shadows. The animal on the left shows a typical foot with the 3
toes opposing 2. (see below)
||High in the rainforest of Montagne d'Ambre National Park in northern
Madagascar we found the world's smallest chameleon, the Dwarf Chameleon,
Brooksia minima. Our guide, Arnaud, sifted through the leaf litter at
the base of a hardwood tree, and within a few seconds came up with this
little fellow which fit easily in his hand. Unlike other
chameleons, the Dwarf Chameleons don't change color, but are always dark
brown. These small
chameleons are no more than 2.5 cm (1 in). Click on the picture to see how
small it is, compared to the hand it's in.
||The large Panther Chameleon (right) is a common resident in
the forests of Madagascar. Here, you can see one with eyes closed.
Note the claws on the feet which are not in contact with the tree
branch. Claws are not used for grasping branches because
chameleons have zygodactylius feet, meaning they have three toes
opposing two (and 2 toes opposing 3 on their back feet). This allows
them to hold onto things, much like humans do with thumb and fingers.
|Our Malagasy guide, Goulam, holds a wild Chameleon
Furcifer oustaleitii (left). Although chameleons may seen
confusing to tell apart because of the similarity (and
changeability!) of their colors, it is the head shape that often
makes them distinct from one another. Compare the head of the
animal on the left with the one on the right, and again above.
||Displaying striking brown, black and white
markings, this small chameleon (right) is a juvenile
Caloma aushogensis. Note the armor-like shield on the
head which is used in defense and combat.
||The Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus (left) is the one
crocodile species found in Madagascar.
Crocodiles live in rivers throughout the island, and are even found in some
subterranean rivers in the Réserve Spéciale de l'Ankárana in northern
Madagascar. Nile crocodiles are the second largest crocodile species in
the world, (the largest are in Australia) reaching more than 3m (10ft).
Crocodiles are aggressive hunters and will take humans who wander to the river
edge, or zebu (Madagascar cattle), or smaller prey. At Lac Antanavo in
northern Madagascar, crocodiles are considered sacred. The people there
believe the crocodiles contain the spirits of ancestors who were killed near
|There are no venomous snakes in Madagascar, so it was quite safe for
our guide to pick up this slender snake (left) which he called the Four
Lined Snake Pseudozyrhopus tritaeniatus.
||The large brown, coiled snake (right)
is probably a member of the Boa family of snakes.
These are all constrictors and relatively harmless to humans.
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