Prof Krystal Tolley, a Research Leader at the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), has been conducting research on a member of the Dwarf chameleon family and has spent a long time trying to describe and name this elusive reptile. Krystal has been looking for a chameleon that resembles the Knysna dwarf chameleon but was suspected to be a different species yet to be described. Krystal visited Grootvadersbosch in October 2020 to once again look for them. The GVB Conservancy and Cape Nature staff assisted her in finding a few specimens. We wrote a blog about Krystal’s visit and the unique experience we had learning about the special chameleons in our forest.
This chameleon has been a mystery for several decades and it has been a long process to officially describe it. Between early 1990s and around 2018, only three records were in existence. This is because they are difficult to locate and prefer to stay high in the canopy or out of sight. Krystal needed to collect enough genetic material to determine if it really was a new species. After a long wait and much searching, they had collected enough material to describe the chameleon.
The elusive species has been present in our forests for hundreds of years but has gone unnamed due to a lack of information. Krystal has now given it a name: Bradypodion venustum sp.nov (Common name: Grootvadersbosch Dwarf Chameleon) Bradypodion means "slow-footed" in Greek, and the specific epithet venustum is a Latin adjective that means "attractive," and it refers to the new species' colourful flanks, which perfectly describes our good-looking chameleon.
Chameleons are truly wonderful and iconic creatures that are only found on the African continent. We are thrilled to finally have a scientific name for our very own African reptile. The paper that describes the species is published in the African Journal of Herpetology (Krystal et al, 2022). This new Grootvadersbosch species is a specialist of Afromontane Forest at the foothills of the Langeberg Mountains. Although there are a few populations of Bradypodion species that occur in fynbos and afromontane forest, it appears that this species is a specialist for forest environments. One is most likely to encounter it from the months of July to August, but it is a tricky species to view as it usually spends its time high in the canopy. To date, this chameleon has only been found in mature indigenous forest within the Grootvadersbosch Reserve. Although, the true range of the species is not yet fully understood. This species is presumed to have the smallest extent of occurrence and distribution size of any chameleon in South Africa. This seems to be a common problem with people that find themselves in our little piece of Eden- they just don’t want to move anywhere else!
The new paper also describes two other new species of Bradypodion: Bradypodion barbatulum sp. Nov and Bradypodion baviaanense sp. nov. The addition of these three new species means that the genus now contains 20 species, making it the third most species-rich chameleon genus on the African continent, after Trioceros and Kinyongia. "Furthermore, the richness of the Cape Fold Mountains is increased substantially, from five to eight species.” (Krystal et al, 2022). Well done, Krystal! The long journey to finally name these chameleons has included many nights mountain and forest excursions, sample collections, data analysis and examinations. We are very proud to have contributed (in a small way) to this process and to have assisted Krystal in her research to describe Bradypodion venustum sp.nov. We loved joining in the fun and excitement to officially christen the Grootvadersbosch Dwarf Chameleon.
We are grateful to Krystal Tolly, Colin Tilbury and Marius Burger for a fascinating article that has now been published. We salute the many natural scientists and organisations, who are working tirelessly to better understand our natural world. It is very encouraging that while so many species are being lost, we are also still discovering new ones. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and interesting work.
Krystal A Tolley, Colin R Tilbury & Marius Burger (2022) Convergence and vicariance: speciation of chameleons in the Cape Fold Mountains, South Africa, and the description of three new species of Bradypodion Fitzinger, 1843, African Journal of Herpetology, 71:1, 14-38,
GVB Conservancy Staff