Lizard lovers will swoon over a newly discovered species of tiny chameleon. Brookesia nana dwells in the Madagascar rainforest and may be the smallest — and cutest — reptile on Earth. Scientists announced its discovery in the journal Scientific Reports late last month.
With a full-grown male measuring 21.6 millimeters from nose to tail tip, this wee chameleon can balance on the tip of a human thumb. Picture a living creature the size of a sunflower seed, and you’ll get an idea of just how small this reptile is.
In 2012, researchers first saw the tiny chameleon in northern Madagascar’s Sorata massif, a damp, chilly area in the mountains. “At the first glance, we realized that it was an important discovery,” study coauthor Andolalao Rakotoarison, a herpetologist at University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, told National Geographic.
Of course, it’s easier to spot, say, an elephant than a seed-sized reptile. That may be why scientists have only identified two members of the species so far. The female they found was about 7 millimeters longer than the male.
The Bavarian State Collection of Zoology led the international team. While the discovery of the species is noted in the new report, the research was concentrated on a specific, personal matter. “A comparison with 51 other chameleon species showed that the new species has exceptionally large genitals,” the researchers concluded. Judging from the reptilian genital structures called hemipenes, scientists have determined that the smallest chameleons often have the largest genitals. In a comparison of racy reptiles, the new species came in fifth, with the genitals measuring 18.5% of the chameleon’s body size. Most impressive of all? Brookesia tuberculata, with hemipenes about a third of the male lizard’s length, excluding his tail.
The researchers are already concerned that this species could be vulnerable or even endangered due to deforestation.
The new chameleon isn’t the only petite critter in the East African country. “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,” Rakotoarison said. But why Brookesia nana evolved to seed-size is still a mystery. Its closest relative is twice as large and lives in the same mountains.
Image via Frank Glaw (SNSB/ZSM)