Scientists recently discovered a tiny new species of chameleon that appears to be the world’s smallest reptile. Known as Brookesia nana, or “nano chameleon,” the petite species can live on the tip of a finger.
This species is found in the northern region of Madagascar. So far, only two specimens of “nanochameleons” have been found, one male and one female. The female’s body length is 0.7 inches, including the tail, which is 1.1 inches, making her one of the smallest known geckos and chameleons.
But males are smaller. Male Brookesia nana measures only 0.5 inches long, or 0.9 inches, including the tail. This appears to make it the world’s smallest reptile, just about half a millimeter taller than the previous record holder – a related species, B. tuberculata.
Of course, researchers have to make sure these specimens aren’t just juveniles. They performed a micro-CT scan of the female and found two eggs inside her body, indicating she was mature. Likewise, the male’s genitals indicate that he is also sexually mature. The genitals make up almost 20 percent of its total body size, and the team says they are needed in order to mate with significantly larger females.
Exactly why this species is so small remains a mystery, the team said. This appears to be an example of the “island effect,” where animals trapped on small islands tend to evolve smaller bodies. But, the team said, B. nana is found in mountainous areas of mainland Madagascar, so that doesn’t seem to apply here. Its family tree also raises further questions.
The new species’ habitat may also be tiny, perhaps limited to a few acres, the researchers said. This could put it at risk of extinction.
“Unfortunately, the nanochameleon’s habitat is under heavy pressure from deforestation, but the area was recently designated as a protected area in the hope that this will allow the tiny new chameleon to survive,” said study author Oliver – said Hollitshek.
The study describing the new species was published in the journal Scientific Reports.