Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tiny Chameleons Discovered in Madagascar

Creeping by flashlight through the forest of Madagascar at night, scientists found chameleons so tiny they can sit on a match head.

The team of scientists, including three from Germany and one from the United States, discovered the creatures sleeping in plants just inches above the forest floor.  For vertebrates (animals with a spine like mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians), there are probably limits to how small they can be and still have parts like complex eyes and organs.  However, it seems that every few years scientists find a new fish or frog or chameleon that is smaller than they thought possible.

The four new species of chameleons are from northern Madagascar, and include Brookesia confidens, Brookesia desperata, Brookesia micra, and Brookesia tristis.  While all of them appear similiar, they are so small it's hard to see their differences with the naked eye.  Testing revealed that the four have significant genetic differences.

Found on an small island, the B. micra only reaches a total length of 1 and 3/16th of an inch or 30mm and makes an argument for the theory of island dwarfism--some animals may adapt to the confines of island life by being little and using less resources.

Logging in Madagascar reduces the available habitat for these creatures, and they are too small and slow to escape chain saws and falling trees.  However, now that we are aware of these chameleons, it's possible steps may be taken to save them.  I noted on the National Geographic site that comments were made on how cute the chameleons are.  While it's unfair to judge a creature (or a person) by their looks, it might motivate people to help.

(Here is the scientific paper on Plos One, an article in the Christian Science Monitor, and NationalGeographic.  The photograph is by Frank Glaw, a scientist from Munchen, Germany who helped discover the chameleons.)

1 comment:

  1. In my excitement over the tiny chameleons, I neglected to say that this story came about because of alert reader Olaf, who sent me a link about it and is a frequent commenter here at Chimp.

    Thanks Olaf!