Researchers discover world’s tiniest chameleons in Madagascar

A research team has discovered four new tiny chameleons that are the smallest chameleons – and some of the smallest reptiles – in existence.

A team of researchers have discovered four new tiny chameleon species in Madagascar. They are the world’s smallest chameleons, and some of the smallest reptiles in existence, according to a paper published February 15 in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Not quite as small as actual size.

All four species are members of the genus Brookesia, a group of small reptiles commonly known as leaf chameleons found in Madagascar. The four species look similar, but scientists conducted genetic analysis to prove that they are in fact four distinct species.

Of the four species—Brookesia confidens, B. desperata, B. micra, and B. tristis—B. micra is the smallest, growing to only about an inch in length. B. micra is found only on an island called Nosy Hara, off the northern coast of Madagascar. The team that discovered the species believe it may be an extreme case of island dwarfism, in which species evolve miniature sizes possibly due to minimal resources.

Here’s a larger view of a young B. micra on the head of a match. Credit: Frank Glaw, Jörn Köhler, Ted M. Townsend, Miguel Vences

The research team was led by Frank Glaw of the Zoological State Collection of Munich in Germany. In a press release, Glaw said

The extreme miniaturization of these dwarf reptiles might be accompanied by numerous specializations of the bodyplan, and this constitutes a promising field for future research. But most urgent is to focus conservation efforts on these and other microendemic species in Madagascar which are heavily threatened by deforestation.

The name B. tristis is derived from “triste,” the French word for sad; the species was found in a small patch of forest near an expanding city, according to the BBC.

The full findings can be found in the open-access journal PLoS ONE.

Bottom line: The world’s tiniest chameleon species have been discovered in Madagascar. They are the smallest chameleons, and some of the smallest reptiles in existence, according to a paper published February 15 in the online journal PLoS ONE.

Laura Dattaro

MORE ARTICLES