There is considerable controversy concerning the origin of Iberian populations of the Mediterranean chameleon, Chamaeleo chamaeleon. Current opinion dictates that Spanish populations result from introductions during the 18th and 19th centuries, with subsequent translocations from the original populations to other parts of Spain. The Portugese population in the Algarve is believed to have been introduced from Africa or Spain during the 1920s. However, Holocene remains of chameleons suggest that the Malaga population at least could have a much older origin. Analysis of sequences from the mitochondrial 16S ribosomal RNA gene of samples from the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa revealed a double origin for the Iberian population. The Mediterranean Iberian (Malaga) population is closely related to Mediterranean North African populations, with Atlantic Iberian populations more closely related to populations of the Atlantic coast of North Africa. The overall genetic differentiation and diversity observed was very low, preventing precise dating of the colonization events. However this low level of differentiation is not consistent with Plio-Pleistocene colonization, the assumed timing for a natural colonization event and suggests that chameleons were probably introduced twice by man in the recent past. © 2002 The Linnean Society of London, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 2002, 75, 1–7.