Summary of the latest taxonomic revisions to the genus Rhampholeon GÜNTHER, 1874

By Christopher V. Anderson


Anderson, C.V. (2005). Summary of the latest taxonomic revisions to the genus Rhampholeon GÜNTHER, 1874. Chameleons! Online E-Zine, June 2005. (

Frequently known as pygmy chameleons, the genus Rhampholeon consists of a number of small, largely terrestrial chameleon species, often with short tails and of particularly small size. In this way, they are very similar to the chameleons of the genus Brookesia. The genus Brookesia, however, is restricted to Madagascar while the genus Rhampholeon consists only of continental African species. In 1986 the genera Rhampholeon (13 species) and Brookesia (27 species) were placed into their own subfamily (Brookesiinae) of the family Chamaeleonidae by Klaver and Böhme. Recent studies, however, have indicated that the subfamily Brookesiinae is paraphyletic, with the genus Rhampholeon being closer related to the genera Chamaeleo and Brandypodion than to the genus Brookesia. The general morphological and behavioral similarities of the genera Rhampholeon and Brookesia are simply an example of convergence.

Subadult male Rieppeleon brevicaudatus. Photo Courtesy of Chris Anderson

Morphological comparisons of the species in the genus Rhampholeon initially indicated a division within the genus into two main groups. Clade I is comprised of Rh. kerstenii, Rh. brevicaudatus and Rh. brachyurus which tend to be widely distributed in lowland forests and non-forest habitats. Clade II is comprised the remaining species of the genus (excluding the newly reclassified Rh. spinosum which was not considered in the comparison) and tend to be confined to relict montane forests.

The latest study used mitochondrial and nuclear DNA sequence data to phylogentically determine the relationship within the Rhampholeon genus. Interestingly, its findings were congruent with that of the morphological comparison. Combining the geographical, morphological and molecular data, Matthee et. al. have suggested a new revised classification for the species of the genus Rhampholeon. This classification reassigns the species into a new genus Rieppeleon and the genus Rhampholeon. The Rhampholeon genus is then divided into the subgenera Rhampholeon, Bicuspis and Rhinodigitum. The following list provides the current breakdown of which species have been placed in which genus:

  1. Genus: Rieppeleon Matthee, Tilbury & Townsend 2004

    1. Rieppeleon kerstenii (Peters 1868)

    2. Rieppeleon brevicaudatus (Matschie 1892)

    3. Rieppeleon brachyurus (Günther 1893)

  2. Genus: Rhampholeon Günther 1874

    1. Subgenus: (Rhampholeon) Günther 1874

      1. Rhampholeon (Rhampholeon) spectrum (Buchholz 1874)

      2. Rhampholeon (Rhampholeon) temporalis (Matschie 1892)

    2. Subgenus: (Bicuspis) Loveridge 1956

      1. Rhampholeon (Bicuspis) marshalli Boulenger 1906

      2. Rhampholeon (Bicuspis) gorongosae Broadley 1971

    3. Subgenus: (Rhinodigitum) Matthee, Tilbury & Townsend 2004

      1. Rhampholeon (Rhinodigitum) platyceps Günther 1893

      2. Rhampholeon (Rhinodigitum) boulengeri Steindachner 1911

      3. Rhampholeon (Rhinodigitum) nchisiensis (Loveridge 1953)

      4. Rhampholeon (Rhinodigitum) chapmanorum Tilbury 1992

      5. Rhampholeon (Rhinodigitum) uluguruensis Tilbury & Emmrich 1996

      6. Rhampholeon (Rhinodigitum) moyeri Menegon, Salvidio & Tilbury 2002

Unfortunately, with the recent reclassification of Bradypodion spinosum to Rhampholeon spinosum, this species was not included in this study and it is thus unclear exactly where it will end up fitting. Rh. spinosum will, however, continue to be classified within the group of species that comprised what was the original Rhampholeon genus, although it has not yet been officially placed in the new phylogeny and as such, it is unclear where it fits into the new classification at this time (C. Matthee, pers. comm.; K. Tolley, pers. comm.).

While new taxomony can be difficult to grasp and remember, it is important to stay current with these changes for consistency in the hobby. While this summary has not gone into the specific methods used in the reclassification, it will hopefully help bring the study and changes to the attention of the public as well as stimulate some to further look into the study.

Male Rhampholeon (Rhampholeon) temporalis. Photo Courtesy of Chris Anderson


Klaver, Charles & Wolfgang Böhme (1997). Das Tierreich: Teilband 112-Chamaeleonidae. Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin.

Matthee, Conrad, Colin Tilbury & Ted Townsend (2004). A phylogenetic review of the African leaf chameleons:genus Rhampholeon (Chamaeleonidae): the role of vicariance and climate change in speciation. Proc. R. Soc. Lond. B 271: 1967-1975.

Necas, Petr & Wolfgang Schmidt (2004). Stump-tailed Chameleons: Miniature Dragons of the Rainforest. The Genera Brookesia and Rhampholeon. Chimaira Buchhandelsgesellschaft, Germany.

Christopher V. Anderson

Chris Anderson is a herpetologist currently working on his Ph.D. at the University of South Florida after receiving his B.S. from Cornell University. He has spent time in the jungles of South East Asia, among other areas, aiding in research for publication. He has previously traveled throughout Madagascar in search of, and conducting personal research on, the chameleons of the region. He has traveled to over 35 countries, including chameleon habitat in 6. Currently, Chris is the Editor and Webmaster of the Chameleons! Online E-Zine and is studying the kinematics and morphological basis of ballistic tongue projection and tongue retraction in chameleons for his dissertation. Chris Can be emailed at or


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