A German-Madagascan team of biologists has discovered a minuscule new species of chameleon that could be the smallest reptile on Earth. The scientists found two of the tiny lizards, one male and one female, in northern Madagascar, and named the new species Brookesia nana, or nano-chameleon. According to their study, published January 28, 2021 in the journal Scientific Reports, the male nano-chameleon has a body that’s only half an inch (13.5 mm) long – about the size of a sunflower seed – making it the smallest of all the roughly 11,500 known species of reptiles on the planet.
At a body length of just 13.5 mm (0.53 inches) and a total length of just 22 mm (0.87 inch) including the tail, the male nano-chameleon is the smallest known male of all ‘higher vertebrates’
The female is larger, with a 0.7 inch (19 mm) body length and 1 inch (29 mm) total length.
Study co-author Andolalao Rakotoarison of the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar said:
There are numerous extremely miniaturized vertebrates in Madagascar, including the smallest primates and some of the smallest frogs in the world, which have evolved independently. But why this species is so small remains a mystery.
In spite of intensive efforts, the researchers were only able to find two individuals.
The distribution ranges of most dwarf chameleons are very small, so the researchers expect that the nano-chameleon likewise has a very limited range. Oliver Hawlitschek from the Centrum für Naturkunde in Hamburg, Germany, said:
Unfortunately, the habitat of the nano-chameleon is under heavy pressure from deforestation, but the area has recently been designated as a protected area, and hopefully that will enable this tiny new chameleon to survive.
Bottom line: Scientists say this sunflower-seed-sized nano-chameleon (Brookesia nana) is the smallest known male of the roughly 11,500 known reptile species.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.