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Monday, 7 May 2012

"That’s Not a Crumb, It’s a Tiny Chameleon"

"Four new species of chameleons, each just tens of millimeters in length, have been discovered on the island of Madagascar. They are among the smallest reptiles in the world. 

“On islands you find extremes,” said Frank Glaw, a reptile specialist at the Zoological State Collection of Munich, who reported the discovery. “You find very big species and very small species.” 

One new chameleon was found on Nosy Hara, an islet off the coast of Madagascar. Named Brookesia micra, it is the smallest of the four species. Juveniles are small enough to stand on the head of a match. 

All the chameleons are brown and generate a white stripe across their back when they are stressed. But though the lizards look very similar, genetic studies revealed that they are rather distinct. “They separated millions of years ago,” Dr. Glaw said. 

At one time, islands like Madagascar also had giant animals, Dr. Glaw said. 

“They went extinct after humans arrived, but the small animals survived,” he said. “Big species are vulnerable because they need big habitats and they are hunted by humans.” Small species require relatively few resources and very little space. 

Today, Dr. Glaw said, even small animals like the miniature chameleons face habitat destruction. But the chameleons do have the advantage of seeking out spots that humans might avoid. 

“They live small pockets of leaf litter in between limestone blocks,” Dr. Glaw said. “So maybe this is some kind protection for them.” 

He and his colleagues reported their findings in the current issue of the journal PloS One." 

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