What’s the story?
With a body just 13.5mm long – that’s probably not even as wide as your finger nail – and a length of just 22mm from top to tail, the male Brookesia nana – or nano-chameleon – is thought to be the smallest reptile on earth.
The teenie, tiny little dude was discovered in Madagascar by an expedition team of German-Madagascan scientists and is at least 1.5mm smaller than the previous record-holder, which is also a member of the Brookesia family and made its debut in 2012, photographed on the head of a match.
The male Brookesia nana was discovered alongside a slightly larger female by an international team of researchers, who have classified the new species in a recent scientific report. The report notes that the female Brookesia nana harboured two eggs, confirming its age as adult, while the male exhibited “well-developed” genitals, which in chameleons come in pairs known as hemipenes and once again, suggests the tiny reptile is not a juvenile.
Why is this positive news for the planet?
Oliver Hawlitschek, a scientist at the Center of Natural History in Hamburg, said: “The nano-chameleon’s habitat has unfortunately been subject to deforestation, but the area was placed under protection recently, so the species will survive.”
Because of their size, slow movement and camouflage, the Brookesia nana is incredibly hard to find, demonstrated by the fact that the scientists behind the report were only able to find and observe these two individuals, despite “great effort”.
In a blog post, Dr Mark Scherz, one of the researchers involved in the discovery, called the Brookesia nana “a spectacular case of extreme miniaturisation”, raising questions about the lower limits of body size in vertebrates – that means it’s of scientific interest, as its discovery highlights the astonishing biodiversity of its habitat in Madagascar.
The scientists who have authored the report have recommended that the chameleon be listed as critically endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species to help protect it and its habitat.