Christopher Raxworthy on cryptic chameleons and evolution

Raxworthy is searching for what he calls a ‘cryptic’ species of chameleons – those hard to distinguish from chameleons already known – that might help revolutionize our understanding of how evolution works.

Christopher Raxworthy: Over the recent last 30,40, 50 years, geographic isolation has been the dominant recognized way that you get new species. You isolate populations and you run evolution long enough and they become different. But what I’m seeing is Madagascar is a process where different populations can adapt to different environmental gradients, and you can actually get speciation occurring with gene flow. And that’s actually still a relatively radical idea.

Christopher Raxworthy, a herpetologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, works in a branch of zoology dealing with reptiles and amphibians. He’s searching for what he calls a ‘cryptic’ species of chameleons – those hard to distinguish from chameleons already known – that might help revolutionize our understanding of how evolution works.

For almost two decades, Raxworthy has studied chameleons on the island of Madagascar in East Africa – a country home to a large percentage of the world’s chameleons. He used satellite data – including data from the MODIS instrument on NASA’s Terra satellite – and genetic data in his work.

Our thanks today to NASA’s Earth Observatory and TERRA mission, helping us better understand and protect our home planet.

To read more about Dr. Raxworthy, see Uncovering Chameleons on the Earth Observatory.

Beth Lebwohl