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.
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.
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 came to EarthSky from the Baltimore City Paper, where she remains an associate editor, and from @ldattaro on Twitter. She is a 2009 graduate of University of Delaware with degrees in English and music and sees science as a way to unite humanity behind a greater good, besides being simply the coolest thing to read and write about. She currently lives in Baltimore.