Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

New Chameleon Species May Be World’s Smallest Reptile

New Chameleon Species May Be World’s Smallest Reptile
A newly discovered species of chameleon is the size of a sunflower seed. Frank Glaw / SNSB / ZSM

Scientists have discovered a new species of tiny chameleon, and it may be the smallest species of reptile on Earth.

The new chameleon, scientific name Brookesia nana, was found in the rainforest of Madagascar and written up in Scientific Reports in late January. The male of the species has a tip to tail length of only 21.6 millimeters, making him the smallest adult male bird, mammal or reptile ever recorded.

"I think what keeps stories like this front and center in our imagination is that every time something like this is discovered, it's like, 'Oh man, I guess [living creatures] can get a little smaller,'" evolutionary biologist Tony Gamble, who was not involved in the study, told National Geographic of the find.

Researchers first observed the chameleon in 2012 during an expedition to the Sorata massif — cool, wet, forested mountains in northern Madagascar. The creature is approximately the size of a sunflower seed.

"At the first glance, we realized that it was an important discovery," study coauthor and Malagasy herpetologist Andolalao Rakotoarison told National Geographic.

So far, researchers have only identified one male and one female of the species. The male has a body length of 13.5 millimeters and a total length (including the tail) of 21.6 millimeters, the study explained. The female is slightly larger, with a body length of 19.2 millimeters and a total length of 28.9 millimeters.

The Malagasy and German research team think that both of the animals are adults, according to a press release from the German research institute SNSB, which led the study. The male had fully developed genitals, known as hemipenes. To determine the age of the female, a scan was required.

"With the aid of micro-CT scans – essentially three-dimensional x-rays – we were able to identify two eggs in the female specimen, and so demonstrate that it is an adult," study co-author of the University of Potsdam Mark D. Scherz said in the press release.

However, what the researchers can't know is how common the pair's size is for their species, National Geographic pointed out. Its closest competitor for smallest reptile is Brookesia micra, another tiny chameleon that was also discovered in Madagascar.

"There are numerous extremely miniaturised vertebrates in Madagascar, including the smallest primates and some of the smallest frogs in the world, which have evolved independently," Rakotoarison, currently at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, said in the press release.

However, researchers don't know why this particular chameleon is so small. It was found on mainland Madagascar, which means the "island effect" that sees smaller animals evolve on smaller islands shouldn't apply.

What they do know is that the creature may already be at risk from extinction. It lives in an area under extreme threat from deforestation, National Geographic explained. Poverty in the region where the chameleon was found means that most people can't afford basic food staples. This has put pressure on the country to clear forest for agriculture; NASA figures show that 94 percent of Madagascar's formerly forested areas have been impacted by deforestation. Hope lies in the fact that the Sorata massif has recently been included in a conservation zone. However, Scherz said the chameleon's fate likely rested on the fate of Madagascar as a whole.

"It's all good and well to say, 'Oh, I really hope that people stop deforesting this forest,'" Scherz told National Geographic. "But until the economic future of Madagascar changes, there's no hope for any of its wildlife because the people have to eat."

Radiation-contaminated water tanks and damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on Feb. 25, 2016 in Okuma, Japan. Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Japan will release radioactive wastewater from the failed Fukushima nuclear plant into the Pacific Ocean, the government announced on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Antarctica's Thwaites Glacier, aka the doomsday glacier, is seen here in 2014. NASA / Wikimedia Commons / CC0

Scientists have maneuvered an underwater robot beneath Antarctica's "doomsday glacier" for the first time, and the resulting data is not reassuring.

Read More Show Less
Journalists film a protest by the environmental organization BUND at the Datteln coal-fired power plant in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany on April 23, 2020. Bernd Thissen / picture alliance via Getty Images

By Jessica Corbett

Lead partners of a global consortium of news outlets that aims to improve reporting on the climate emergency released a statement on Monday urging journalists everywhere to treat their coverage of the rapidly heating planet with the same same level of urgency and intensity as they have the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read More Show Less
Airborne microplastics are turning up in remote regions of the world, including the remote Altai mountains in Siberia. Kirill Kukhmar / TASS / Getty Images

Scientists consider plastic pollution one of the "most pressing environmental and social issues of the 21st century," but so far, microplastic research has mostly focused on the impact on rivers and oceans.

Read More Show Less
A laborer works at the site of a rare earth metals mine at Nancheng county, Jiangxi province, China on Oct. 7, 2010. Jie Zhao / Corbis via Getty Images

By Michel Penke

More than every second person in the world now has a cellphone, and manufacturers are rolling out bigger, better, slicker models all the time. Many, however, have a bloody history.

Read More Show Less