have recently discovered four new species of tiny chameleons in the remote rainforests in northern Madagascar. The chameleons are so small that the adult of the smallest species are just over an inch from snout to tail.
The four new species belong to the genus Brookesia, also known as the leaf chameleons, which are already known to contain some very small species, with members typically resembling younger versions of larger species. Adult males of the B. micra species grow to only just over a half-inch (16 millimeters) from nose to bottom, making them some of the smallest reptiles on Earth.
Mostly brown with a touch of green, the coloring of the diminutive creatures is far from spectacular. And unlike what chameleons are famous for, these miniature animals are unable to change their appearance. Nonetheless, researchers are fascinated.
The team searched for the tiny lizards under the cover of darkness, using headlamps and flashlights to seek out the sleeping chameleons. All four species are active during the day, and at night climb up into the branches to sleep. But for such tiny critters, "up into the branches" means a mere 4 inches (10 centimeters) off the ground, so finding them is no easy task. However, once spotted, the tiny lizards are easy to catch.
"They are sleeping and you can just pick them up. It's like picking a strawberry, so it's easy," said herpetologist Frank Glaw, lead author of the study. "They do not move at all at night."
Brookesia species tend to live within a very small range. Half the members of this genus are found in only a single location and the smallest of the newly found species — Brookesia micra — lives only on a small island called Nosy Hara. Extreme miniaturization of this sort is common in island populations. Known as island dwarfism, it may occur due to limited resources and pressure to reproduce faster.
Since the chameleons all look extremely similar, researchers used genetic analysis to determine that they belonged to separate species. The findings appear on the Feb. 15 issue of the open access journal PLoS ONE.