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10 Lizards of Madagascar: A Guide to the Island’s Most Fascinating Reptiles

lizards of Madagascar day gecko

Madagascar is a land of unique and fascinating wildlife; its lizards are no exception. From the colourful chameleons to the camouflaged geckos, the island is home to a diverse range of lizard species found nowhere else on Earth. In this article, we will look at 10 lizards from Madagascar.

Rainbow Agama

rainbow agama
Bernard DUPONT from FRANCE, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The rainbow agama, also known as the common agama, is a small-to-medium-sized lizard commonly found in Madagascar. They are known for their vibrant colours and patterns, ranging from bright blues and greens to oranges and reds.

These lizards are typically found in savannas and rocky areas, where they can bask in the sun and hunt for insects. They are diurnal, being the most active during the day, and will often be seen perched on rocks or trees, scanning their surroundings for prey.

Male rainbow agamas are known for their territorial behaviour and often display their bright colours to attract mates and intimidate rivals. They also have the ability to change colour depending on their mood and environment.

Mossy Leaf-tailed Gecko

mossy leaf tailed gecko
Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This species is known for its incredible camouflage, allowing it to blend seamlessly with its surroundings. It’s so well-camouflaged that it can be difficult to spot during the day. Their eyes are large and lidless and have yellow sclera with elliptical pupils suited for the gecko’s nocturnal habits. As with all Uroplatus geckos, the tail is dorso-ventrally flattened.

These geckos are nocturnal and arboreal, meaning they spend their days hiding in trees and other vegetation. At night, they emerge to hunt for insects and other small prey. They have a unique hunting strategy, using their long, sticky tongues to capture their prey in a lightning-fast strike.

Fish Scale Gecko

fish scale gecko
Pavel Kirillov, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The fish scale gecko, also known as Geckolepis, is a unique gecko species endemic to Madagascar and the Comoro Islands. They are nocturnal, arboreal, insectivorous lizards found in primary and secondary forests. It has a slender body, a long tail, and large eyes. Its toes are equipped with adhesive pads allowing it to easily climb trees and other vertical surfaces.

What sets the fish scale gecko apart from other geckos is its ability to lose its scales when grasped by a predator. This defence mechanism, known as autotomy, allows the gecko to escape from the predator’s grasp and regenerate its scales later on.

Day Gecko

lizards of Madagascar day gecko

These diurnal lizards are native to the eastern coast of Madagascar and are known for their vibrant colours and energetic personalities.

Several species of day geckos are found in Madagascar, including the Madagascar giant day gecko and the standing’s day gecko. These lizards can grow up to 10 inches long and are often kept as pets due to their striking appearance.

The day gecko is a tree-dwelling lizard that feeds on insects, fruit and nectar. They are often found in rainforests and can be seen basking in the sun on tree branches. These lizards are known for their territorial displays, which involve body movements and positions to warn off potential rivals.

Nano Chameleon

The nano chameleon, also known as Brookesia nana, is a newly discovered species of chameleon found in Madagascar. It is considered the smallest reptile in the world, with the male measuring just 13.5mm in body length and 22mm in total length, including the tail.

The nano chameleon belongs to the family of dwarf chameleons, which are known for their small size. It was discovered by a German-Madagascan team of researchers in 2021. They live in the montane rainforests of northern Madagascar.

The nano chameleon is unique because it does not change colour like other chameleons. It is also different from other species of chameleons in its physical appearance. The nano chameleon has a short, rounded snout and a small head compared to its body size. It has bulging eyes that can move independently, allowing it to look in two different directions simultaneously.

Panther Chameleon

panther chameleon

These chameleons are native to Madagascar and are known for their ability to change colour depending on their mood, temperature and environment. They come in various colours, with different regions of Madagascar producing different hues. For example, those from Nosy Be, Ankify, and Ambanja are typically a vibrant blue, while those from Ambilobe, Antsiranana, and Sambava are red, green or orange. The areas of Maroantsetra and Tamatave yield primarily red specimens.

Panther chameleons are known for their long tongues, which they use to catch insects. They are also arboreal, which means they spend most of their time in trees. They can rotate their eyes independently, which helps them to spot prey and predators.

Rhinoceros Chameleon

This chameleon species gets its name from its horn-like nose, with it more prominent in males. The rhinoceros chameleon is endemic to dry forests in Madagascar. The male rhinoceros chameleon can grow to nearly 27 cm (11 in), nearly twice as big as the female.

Their colouration can vary depending on their mood and environment, ranging from green to brown to yellow. They can change their colour quickly to blend in with their surroundings, making them excellent at avoiding predators.

Like other chameleons, the rhinoceros chameleon has a long tongue that can shoot out to catch insects. They are also known for their independently moving eyes, allowing them to look in two different directions simultaneously.

Mermaid Skink

mermaid stink
Mr Falk Eckhard, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Check out the mermaid skink if you’re looking for an unusual lizard. This lizard only has front legs, no hind legs. Its front limbs are shaped like little flippers instead of the clawed feet you’d usually expect to see on a skink. Since it has no hind legs, only “arms”, it is referred to as a mermaid skink, as mermaids also only have a tail – no legs!

The mermaid skink is endemic to Madagascar and is found in the northwestern dry forests of the island. It is a relatively small lizard, with a snout-vent length measuring around 70mm and a body width of about 4mm. Its body is pale, with the eye appearing as a black spot.

Brown Leaf Chameleon

brown leaf chameleon
Marius Burger, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

This small chameleon is found along the eastern coast of Madagascar and on the island of Nosy Boraha. Its appearance mimics that of a dead leaf, making it an expert in camouflage.

The brown-leaf chameleon, also known as the stump-tailed chameleon, is part of the Brookesia genus. It can grow up to 8 cm in length and is one of the smallest chameleons in the world. Its diet consists of small insects, which it catches with its long, sticky tongue.

Satanic Leaf-tailed Gecko

satanic leaf tailed gecko
Charles J. Sharp, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The satanic leaf-tailed gecko is a unique lizard known for its horned head, red eyes, and ability to mimic decaying leaves’ look with its tail. They are one of the smallest leaf-tailed gecko species and can come in a variety of colours, including hues of purple, orange, tan, and yellow. However, they are most often a mottled brown colour with tiny black dots on the underside that help to distinguish them from similar species.

This gecko is indigenous to Madagascar and is often found in the island’s rainforests. Its natural habitat is threatened due to deforestation, and the species is now considered endangered.

They are one of 13 recognized species of the gekkonid lizard genus Uroplatus, discovered on Madagascar’s island in the 17th century. The 13 species are broken into several groups based, in part, on the vegetation they mimic.