Four new species of leaf chameleons were discovered by researchers in the jungles of northern Madagascar, rank among the world’s tiniest reptiles. Adults of the smallest species are just over an inch (2.5 centimeters), from snout to tail.
All four species belong to the genus Brookesia, which already had some very small species, with members resembling juveniles of larger species. However, there is a tinier dwarf gecko found in the British Virgin Islands.
All of the leaf chameleons look extremely similar, so researchers had to revert to genetic analysis to determine if they belonged to separate species. The results were published in the journal PLoS ONE, on February 14th.
The Brookesia species tend to live within a very small habitat, half of the members of this genus are only found in a single location, and the smallest of the newly found species, Brookesia micra, lives on a small island called Nosy Hara.
Such extreme miniaturization is common in island populations, and the phenomenon is known as island dwarfism, which generally occurs due to limited resources and the pressure to reproduce.
Frank Glaw, a herpetologist and lead author of the study, states that the extreme miniaturization of these dwarf reptiles might be accompanied by numerous specializations of the body plan, and this constitutes a promising field for future research. It’s urgent to focus conservation efforts on these and other microendemic species in Madagascar before they disappear since they are heavily threatened by deforestation.
Reference: “Rivaling the World’s Smallest Reptiles: Discovery of Miniaturized and Microendemic New Species of Leaf Chameleons (Brookesia) from Northern Madagascar” by Frank Glaw, Jörn Köhler, Ted M. Townsend and Miguel Vences, 14 February 2012, PLOS ONE.