The new chameleon species may be the smallest reptile on Earth

When a larger predator passes by, waving grass warns the chameleon of danger. At that moment, the animal falls into the bushes, the evolutionary biologist explains Mark Shears From the German University of Potsdam, who was also a co-author of the article.

Scientists have found only two samples so far: a male and a female. They were caught in 2012 on an expedition to the cold and rainy mountainous region called Surata Massif.

Scientists believe that these nanoscale chameleons have a chance to win the title of the world’s smallest reptile. Its main competitor is an animal with the Latin name Brookesia micra. These types of chameleons are tough He was first seen in a photo on top of a match in 2012.

It feels a bit strange to say that one species is a few millimeters smaller than the other. But if those millimeters are two or three percent of your body size, that makes a big difference, Shears says.

“Often science concerns small steps like these,” he adds.

The fact that only two copies were found makes it difficult to generalize the results. Chances are that certain species of the two are taller or smaller, just as humans can vary in height. Scientists know that the females in this chameleon family are usually larger than the males, a phenomenon called sexual dimorphism.

It’s also hard to determine if this little animal is an adult, says Shears. Fortunately, he found eggs in the female’s fallopian tubes when she placed them under a CT scan. “I ran upstairs and yelled, ‘Look, we’ve got confirmation,'” he recalled.

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Determining the age of a male chameleon is a little more difficult. For this, the animal’s genitals must be looked at closely. In young animals, these so-called balloons look like smooth balloons. As animals get older, they become more complex and uneven. Shears says this male did not have a “smooth balloon,” so it was likely that it was not a young animal. He adds that the smallest chameleons have relatively large sexual organs compared to related species of larger size.

“The female is definitely an adult,” says an evolutionary biologist. Tony Gamble, Who is looking for a dwarf gecko at Marquette University in the United States and was not involved in the study. “And it looks like the male might be an adult, too.”

To what level can you go down?

Aside from being such a cute animal, the discovery of a new species of very small chameleon raises all kinds of questions about the limits of minimum vertebrate size.

So it is Bi Nana Shears said it is much smaller than the smallest birds or mammals, but there are much smaller frogs.

There may be a limit to how small your reptiles are. This is partly an issue of body surface area, Gamble said. Although you might not think it, the surface to volume ratio is usually higher in small animals than in larger ones. The higher this percentage, the more likely the animal is to lose moisture.

“And it also seems like there is a limit to where you should put everything you have inside of you,” Gamble says. Many small animals have smaller skulls or overlapping bones. In some cases, entire organs are lost during development.

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It’s like going from a big house to a small apartment without wanting to throw anything out. All of that has to stay somewhere, Gamble explains.

Be careful B. nana

Unfortunately, the future looks bleak for the little chameleon. Rakotorison says the mountain forest where the lizards live has already been severely damaged.

Shears says that many people in this region are too poor to purchase rice or meat. Poverty and a growing population have cleared rain forests to make way for agriculture and livestock. About 94 percent of Madagascar’s forest land is associated with deforestation According to NASA.

Since the new chameleon species is only found in a small area that is also threatened with extinction, there is no doubt that the animal will receive an “endangered” status from IUCN, the international organization for conservation of species. The good news is that Surata was recently incorporated into a newly protected area of ​​Madagascar.

“It’s good to say, ‘Oh, I just hope these people stop cutting the woods,’” says Shears. “But until the economic prospects in Madagascar improve, there is no hope for the animals there, because people have to eat.”

Meanwhile, Gamble says, every new breed of scientists and the general public reminds us of just how diverse Madagascar is.

“I think these kinds of stories appeal to the imagination because with these kinds of discoveries you still think: Oh my God, they could always be smaller,” Gamble says.

This article was originally published in English on NationalGeographic.com

Megan Vasquez

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