Newly discovered “nano-chameleon” fits atop your fingertip

In the northern regions of Madagascar, scientists have discovered the smallest reptile species known to humankind: the Brookesia nana, also known as the nano-chameleon. The tiny specimen is unlike any reptile you’ve ever seen, with its entire body being able to fit on the top of a fingertip.

Although researchers have only found two of these tiny creatures thus far, the good news is that it’s a male and a female pair. The female was found to have a body length of 19 mm (0.7in), or 29 mm (1.1 in) if you count the tail. The male, however, is even smaller, measuring at just 13.5 mm (0.5 in), or 22 mm (0.9 in) including the tail.

The previous record-holder for the smallest reptile belonged to a related species known as B. Tuberculata, which is half a millimeter bigger. Now you might be asking: how do we know the nano-chameleon is full-grown, and not just an infant?

Apparently, the researchers performed micro CT scans of the female, identifying two eggs inside her that indicates she was mature. The male was also deemed sexually mature as his genitals seemed to be fully developed. Interestingly enough, the male’s genitals were almost 20 percent his total body size, making them not so small—relatively speaking—when compared to the rest of his body.

It is still a mystery to the researchers as to why the species is so tiny, and its discovery raises many questions about its family tree.

“The closest relative of the new chameleon is also not the similarly tiny Brookesia Micra, but instead the nearly twice as large B. karchei, which occurs in the same mountains,” says Jörn Köhler, an author of the study. “That shows that this extreme miniaturization has arisen convergently in these chameleons.”

In addition, the researchers say the species may have a tiny habitat limited to just a few acres, putting it at risk of extinction.

“Unfortunately, the habitat of the Nano-Chameleon is under heavy pressure from deforestation, but the area has recently been designated as a protected area, and hopefully that will enable this tiny new chameleon to survive,” says Oliver Hawlitschek, an author of the study.

Image source: Frank Glaw

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