German Scientists Discover Miniature Chameleons in Madagascar Rainforests

February 24, 2012
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Nature travel is such an exciting venture because you get the chance to see wildlife around the world, and Madagascar may well be the next place you want to visit. You should probably pack a magnifying glass and a flashlight if you want a chance to see the newest discovery on the African island.

German researchers from the Zoological State Collection of Munich recently discovered four new species of tiny leaf chameleons living in the remote rainforests of Madagascar. These miniature lizards, belonging to the genus Brookesia, are so small that matchheads and fingernails can serve as appropriately-sized seating.

"During the day it is very hard to find the chameleons because they are very tiny and don't move very much," Frank Glaw, the lead researcher, told Reuters. "The only way, or the best way, to find them is if you go out at night with headlamps and torches because in the dusk, the chameleons climb up the small plants to sleep."

Each of the four species found, even though they are all in the same small region, varies drastically from the others on a genetic level. The researchers indicate that to the untrained eye these dwarf chameleons may appear to share many physical qualities, but a closer examination reveals major differences in their external attributes.

Brookesia micra, the smallest of the four species, can grow to be just over an inch long, which makes it difficult to spot the little lizards. This particular species was discovered in the small islet of Nosy Hara, just off Madagascar's northern coast. The others, Brookesia minima, B. dentata and B. karchei, were all discovered in the northernmost areas of the main island.

Wired reports that animals of extreme miniature size are a result of island dwarfism, which may be caused by limited resources and a need to reproduce faster. Glaw indicates that for environmentalists, "most urgent is to focus conservation efforts on these and other microendemic species in Madagascar which are heavily threatened by deforestation."

When your small group travel takes you to Madagascar, be sure to watch your step. Leaving as small of a footprint in natural ecosystems is a cornerstone of eco travel, and knowing these tiny chameleons could be underfoot is just one more reason to mind your surroundings when you visit the rainforest.