Is this the world’s tiniest reptile?

Meet the nano-chameleon, a new contender for the title of world’s smallest reptile

Magnified image of tiny lizard perched on a fingertip.

With a body size of just 0.53 inches (13.5 mm), this nano-chameleon (Brookesia nana) is the smallest known male of the roughly 11,500 known reptile species. Image via Frank Glaw.

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.

Frank Glaw, Curator of Herpetology at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology is the study’s first author. He said in a statement:

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.

Tiny chameleon perched on a fingertip.

The male nano-chameleon (Brookesia nana) is the smallest adult reptile that has ever been found. Image via Frank Glaw.

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.

Source: Extreme miniaturization of a new amniote vertebrate and insights into the evolution of genital size in chameleons

Via the Bavarian Natural History Collections (Staatliche Naturwissenschaftliche Sammlungen Bayerns)

Eleanor Imster