The newly-discovered “nano-chameleon” is small enough to fit comfortably on a fingertip. The Madagascar species faces a major threat from deforestation.
A team of German and Madagascar researchers have confirmed their find of the world’s smallest reptile in Madagascar, with the male version of the chameleon appearing to be just 13.5-millimeters-long (0.53 inches). The creature, named Brookesia nana, or nano-chameleon, is small enough to fit comfortably on a human fingertip.
Species native to Madagascar mountains
Frank Glaw, a German herpetologist at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich, said the chameleon was discovered in the mountains of northern Madagascar during a 2012 expedition. They discovered a tiny male and a slightly larger female, and did not realize the reptiles were adults until much later.
“You have to really get down on your knees to find them,” Glaw told AP on Friday. “They are obviously camouflaged and move very slowly.”
Glaw discovered that the female had eggs in her body and the male had extremely large genitals, meaning that the chameleons were adults. He said it is unclear why the chameleons are so small.
Deforestation a major threat
The chameleon’s survival is threatened by deforestation on the island.
“The nano-chameleon’s habitat has unfortunately been subject to deforestation, but the area was placed under protection recently, so the species will survive,” Oliver Hawlitschek, an evolutionary biologist at the Center of Natural History in Hamburg said.
Deforestation is a major challenge in Madagascar due to the threats of slash-and-burn agriculture and illegal logging. According to a 2019 study published by the Nature Climate Change journal, nearly all of Madagascar’s eastern rainforest could disappear by 2070 if deforestation and climate change progress at the current pace, putting many of the island’s unique species in danger.