Madagascar Species List

Key to the Reptiles of Southwest Madagascar

Astrochelys radiata

Pelomedusa subrufa

Key to the Lizard Families of Madagascar


1. a. Head distinct from body and noticeably wedge-shaped -    2


    b. Head generally distinct from body and rounded; eyes are

        prominent; pupils may be vertical; toes have enlarged                      

Panther gecko

        pads for climbing                                                          -    Key to Gecko Genera of Southwest Madagascar


    c. Head not distinct from body                                          -     3


2. a.  Eyes mounted on cones which can rotate

         independently; feet adapted for grasping;

         tail without whorls of spines, may be coiled at rest - Key to the Chameleons of Southwest Madagascar


    b. Not as above; digits of feet splayed; tail may

        have prominent whorls of spines                             - Key to the Iguanid Lizards of Southwest Madagascar


Parson's chameleon


3. a. Four well-developed limbs; fold of skin along side of body

        extending from head either to forelimbs or down length of body                                     - Key to the Plated Lizards of Southwest Madagascar


    b. Four, two or no limbs, which may be well-developed or reduced. No fold of skin

        along flanks                                                                                                                  - Key to Skink Genera of Southwest Madagascar

Key to Gecko Genera of Southwest Madagascar (Gekkonidae)

1. a. Pupil round                                        -         2


    b. Pupil vertical                                      -         3




2. a. Claws present on toes          -      Lygodactylus


    b. Claws absent                       -      Phelsuma

Phelsuma mutabilis



3. a. Large, fishlike semicircular scales that are overlapping and may be shed when touched           -     Geckolepis


    b. Scales relatively small and granular (spherical); may be a mix of smaller and larger scales        -     4



4. a. Head clearly distinct from neck and usually broader than body                                               -      5


    b. Head not very distinct from neck, not broader than body. Slender species with short limbs     -     Matoatoa (Phyllodactylus) brevipes



5. a. Lamellae (pads on underside of feet) are largest at tip of toe; lamellae divided into two        

        rows                                                                                                                             -     Paroedura (part)


    b. Lamellae at tip of toe not enlarged                                                                                 -     6



Lamellae, Paroedura picta

6. a. Lamellae clearly divided into two rows                                                                           -     7


    b. Lamellae in a single row down length of toe                                                                    -     8



7. a. Up to 155 mm total length, with a short, thickened tail lacking spines, and four pale diagonal bands along the body behind the neck.    

        Colouration usually rich brown. Fully terrestrial.                                                             -     Paroedura picta


    b. Generally smaller, not patterned as above. Original tail long and typically with spines along the sides. Often found in degraded habitat and in

        buildings.                                                                                                                      -     Hemidactylus



8. a. Slender; hindlimbs longer than forelimbs                                                                         -    Paragehyra


    b. Not especially slender; limbs of roughly equal length                                                       -     Blaesodactylus (Homopholis) sakalava

Key to the Chameleons of Southwest Madagascar (Chamaeleonidae)


1. a. Small (total length <82 mm), brownish; high forward-pointing horn-like eyebrow ridges;

        tail length less than snout-vent (head-body) length; row of small spines along top of body and tail; terrestrial     -     Brookesia brygooi


    b. Larger species; tail long and prehensile; colouration variable; typically arboreal                                                 -     genus Furcifer, 2


Furcifer verrucosus, a species which lacks a snout appendage


2. a. Snout appendage present, though sometimes very short             -         3


    b. Snout appendage absent                                                           -         4




3. a. Crest of very long spines down back; no white line

        on belly                                                                                 -     Furcifer antimena, male


    b. Crest of short spines down back; white line present on belly   -      5



4. a. Single crest of spines along back; large adult size (up to 685 mm total length); no white line on belly              -    6


    b. No spines along back, but a small double crest of tubercles (small, rounded scales); never longer than

        293 mm total length; white line on belly                                                                                                        -     Furcifer lateralis


Furcifer verrucosus, male


5. a. Pronounced snout appendage                

        present                                                                                                       -     7


    b. Short snout appendage

        present                                                                                                       -     8



6. a. More than 40 small spines in crest along back                                             - Furcifer ousteleti


    b. Fewer than 40 spines in crest along back                                                     - Furcifer verrucosus, 9



7. a. White line beneath lip; underside of tail base swollen                                                                                    -     Furcifer labordi, male


    b. Not as above                                                                                                                                              -     Furcifer antimena, female



8. a. White line present on lower lip and often on flanks; colouration predominantly green                                     -     Furcifer belalandensis


    b. Tail base not swollen; total length <178 mm; orange colouration at top of flanks                                             -    Furcifer labordi, female


    c. Total length up to 395 mm; tale base swollen; greenish with dark bands on flanks; light flank stripe present     -     Furcifer tuzetae



Key to the Plated Lizards of Southwest Madagascar (Gerrhosauridae)

1. a. Fold of skin extends from side of head to forelimbs                                                                          -     Tracheloptychus, 2

    b. Fold of skin extends beyond forelimbs down length of body                                                             -     Zonosaurus, 3



2. a. Yellow stripe extends down centre of back from a 'V' shaped marking behind the neck                    -    Tracheloptychus madagascariensis


    b. No central stripe present                                                                                                                 -    Tracheloptychus petersi


Key to Skink Genera of Southwest Madagascar (Scincidae)

1. a. Two very reduced limbs, or no limbs present                                                                                     -     2 


    b. Four limbs present                                                                                                                            -     4



2. a. Two or no limbs present; eyes absent or present as black spots                                                         -     Voeltzkowia


    b. Hindlimbs always present but much reduced; eyes present                                                                 -     3



3. a. Head appears shovel-shaped in profile; upper jaw protrudes clearly beyond lower jaw          -     Pygomeles braconnieri


Ramphotyphlops braminus

Key to the Snakes of Southwest Madagascar

Leioheterodon modestus

1. a. Eye well-developed, though may be small               -     2


    b. Eye only present as pinpoint, or apparently absent   -     Typhlophidae: Typhlops and Ramphotyphlops braminus





2. a. Very large (42 - >250 cm long); thick-bodied with a short tail; strongly triangular head distinct from body;

        blotched patterning; 39+ dorsal scale rows at midbody                                                                       -       Boidae, 3


    b. Not as above; fewer than 34 scale rows at midbody                                                                           -       Colubridae, 4


3. a. Scales of upper lip tall and separated by clear grooves                 -       Sanzinia madagascariensis


    b. No grooves between scales of upper lip                                       -       Acrantophis dumerili



4. a. Pupil vertical or vertically elliptical (oval)                                       -     5


    b. Pupil round                                                                                  -     6



5. a. Prominent snout appendage, which may be spear- or mace-shaped                                                      -     Langaha


    b. Not as above                                                                                                                                      -     7



6. a. More than 19 dorsal scale rows at midbody                                                                                        -     8


    b. 19 or fewer dorsal scale rows at midbody                                                                                           -     9



7. a. Pupil vertical; mottled patterning                                                                                                          -     Madagascarophis


    b. Pupil vertically elliptical; often clearly-defined black bands crossing brown or pale body

        at regular intervals                                                                                                                                -     Stenophis


Sanzinia madagascariensis

Quick Links

Key to:

Turtles        Lizard Families        Geckos       Chameleons        Iguanids        Plated Lizards        Skinks            Snakes


8. a. Upturned snout                                                          -     Leioheterodon


    b. Snout not upturned                                                    -     10



9. a. 19 scale rows at midbody                                          -     11


    b. 17 scale rows at midbody                                          -     12



10. a. Distinctly white on flanks, greenish-brown above; >80 cm long                                                           -    Ithycyphus oursi


      b. Small eye; five black stripes running down brownish back; <60 cm long                                              -    Pseudoxyrhopus  quinquelineatus



11. a. Green/white with three black stripes running down length of body                                                       -     Dromicodryas bernieri


      b. Black with two white stripes, one on either flank; yellowish belly                                                         -     Bibilava (Liopholidophis) lateralis



12. a. Uniform grey or brown, or with a single black zigzag marking down the length of the back;

          black 'V' marking on top of head                                                                                                       -     Mimophis mahfalensis


      b. Other patterning; no 'V' marking; usually two or more stripes present                                                  -     13



13. a. Two thick dark stripes, one at each side of back; pale collar present between head and body             -     Heteroliodon occipitalis


      b. Patterning not as above; collar normally not present;  may have three or more pale or dark stripes       -     Liophidium


Keys © Philip Bowles

    b. Head appears rounded in profile; upper jaw does not protrude far beyond lower jaw             -    Paracontius



4. a. Limbs well-developed                                                                                                          -    5


    b. Limbs rudimentary, with five or fewer toes                                                                            -    Andrago



5. a. Slender, elongate bodies; scales with a glossy sheen; ratio of snout-vent (head + body)

        length to hindlimb length 3:1-5:1                                                                                            -     Amphiglossus and Madascincus


    b. Robust; usually coppery without a sheen; snout-vent length 38-94 mm; ratio of snout-vent

        length to hindlimb length 2:1-3:1                                                                                            -    Trachylepis (Euprepis/Mabuya)


    c. Black or dark brown; snout-vent length <53 mm, pale stripe at either side of the back;

        usually found in coastal areas                                                                                                 -     Cryptoblepharus boutonii

3. a.  Back bordered by a pale stripe at either side; no other stripes  -         4


    b.  Back as above; one or two stripes run down the length

        of the back                                                                              -         5



4. a. Stripes present along length of body, either whole or as broken

        pale spots                                                                                -         6


    b. Stripes widest close to the head, fading completely before

        reaching the tail                                                                        -     Zonosaurus madagascariensis


5. a. Two yellow stripes present                                                                                                                -     Zonosaurus quadrilineatus, adult


    b. One stripe present, either complete or broken into squares                                                                 -     7



6. a. Reddish-brown, often with a red flush to the chin; stripes equal in width along length of body              -     Zonosaurus karsteni


    b. Dark brown with a uniform light brown head; stripes widest close to the head, becoming thinner

        towards the tail and may become broken into light spots                                                                     -     Zonosaurus laticaudatus



7. a. Single central stripe yellow and unbroken                                                                                            -     Zonosaurus trilineatus


    b. Central stripe broken into irregular whitish squares                                                                              -     Zonosaurus quadrilineatus, juvenile

Key to Iguanid Lizards of Southwest Madagascar (Iguanidae, Subfamily Oplurinae)

1. a.  Total length <225 mm; no spines on tail; beige or reddish colouration; black ‘eye’ marking on back of

        head; pale stripes down the sides of the back; black bars run across the back and sides                         -     Chalarodon madagascariensi


    b. No spines on tail, but not as above                                                                                                        -     2  


    c. Spiny tail; black ‘eye’ marking on back of head; black and white ‘collar’ marking                                   -     Oplurus cyclurus



2. a. Total length up to 390 mm; pale stripe may be present running down either side of the back;

        may be speckled blue-grey or patterned with dark patches                                                                     -     Oplurus quadrimaculatus


    b. Brownish colouration, often with dark markings on the back and/or a dark marking between

        ear opening and the forelimb. Never has pale stripes                                                                               -     Oplurus saxicola


    c. Uniform brown-grey colouration; may have indistinct stripes at either edge of the back,

        otherwise unpatterned. Inhabits rocks                                                                                                     -     Oplurus fieriensis

9. a. Long spines, crest extends along back                                                     -     Furcifer verrucosus, male


    b. Small spines, crest doesn’t extend to rear of        

        body                                                                                                       -     Furcifer verrucosus, female

This is an updated version of a key I created six years ago as a Frontier research volunteer. At the time, I was frustrated by the long and overly technical keys in the only available field guide (then the second edition of Glaw & Vences). Confusion over the meanings of the more technical terms, the daunting size of the keys (which contained many species irrelevant to the situation at our field site in southwest Madagascar), and the out-of-date nature of the book (which was already eight years old, a long time in a country where new species of reptile are continually being described), made it very difficult for volunteer fieldworkers, most with no prior experience with reptile taxonomy, to follow accurately.

The following was my solution, using a minimum of taxonomic terms in the hope of producing a key that would be accessible to future research assistants with no prior background in herpetology. While Frontier's own operations have since moved on, I hope that my work will prove equally useful to anyone wanting to identify reptiles from southwest Madagascar, and especially the region between the Onilahy and Fiheranana rivers. Indeed, a number of the species described are widespread throughout the island and many of the important genus characteristics are constant, so people looking to identify finds from other parts of the island may also find this useful as a starting point. Using the key in this way, however, carries the proviso that it is not intended as being in any way comprehensive for other regions of the island. There are also some cases in which characteristics that are reliable for distinguishing members of a species or genus in the southwest will not always reliably identify the same taxon in other regions.

Because the key is intended for ease of use it has been impossible to key all reptiles in the region to species level, as many identifications at this level of resolution become highly technical or rely on sometimes ambiguous characters - as such, skinks, geckos and some snakes can only be identified to genus level (and blind snakes only to family). In addition, where possible I have keyed species using characteristics that can be observed in the field or established from a good photograph, which again increases accessibility but limits the amount of detail that can be included.

Since this key was first produced, the second edition of A Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar has gone out of print. While the third edition is a considerably superior guide, it no longer contains any keys to Malagasy reptiles (and it still doesn't have a glossary!), and this has provided me with an incentive to put this key online for the benefit of future visitors to and researchers in Madagascar. The key is accurate to the best of my knowledge, but I am not primarily a taxonomist and welcome any corrections or comments from specialists in Malagasy reptiles.


Key to Major Reptile Groups in Madagascar

1. a. Body encased within a hard shell-like carapace; head with beak and no teeth             -      Key to the Turtles of Southwest Madagascar

    b. Large body size and four robust limbs; head distinct from body; long triangular snout

        containing prominent teeth; long, flattened tail topped by two rows of rounded spines -     Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)


    c. Not as above                                                                                                             -     2



2. a. Four or two limbs present, or if absent, ear opening visible; tongue not forked             -     Key to the Lizard Families of Madagascar


    b. Limbs absent; no ear opening; tongue forked                                                              -     Key to the Snakes of Southwest Madagascar

Key to the Turtles of Southwest Madagascar

1. a. Terrestrial; can draw head back under the carapace, which is domed with light patterning    -     Tortoises, 2

    b. Head folds sideways under the carapace; carapace unpatterned and not strongly domed.

        Often found in or near water.                                                                                              -     Turtles, 3


2. a. Carapace length ≥ 40 cm; carapace strongly domed

        with whorled or radiated patterning                     -     Astrochelys radiata


    b. Carapace length up to 23 cm; carapace weakly domed

        with square, spider's web patterning                    -     Pyxis arachnoides



3. a. Feet with four claws                        



Glaw, F. and Vences, M. (2007) A Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar. Third Edition. Cologne, Vences & Glaw Verlag: 496pp

Glaw, F. and Vences, M. (1994) A Field Guide to the Amphibians and Reptiles of Madagascar. Second Edition. Serpent's Tale: 480pp

                          -     Erymnochelys madagascariensis


    b. Feet with five claws                                                   -     4




4. a. Carapace length up to 25 cm, plates of plastron (underside of carapace) immobile            -     Pelomedusa subrufa


    b. Carapace length up to 23 cm, plates of plastron mobile                                                     -     Pelusios castanoides