World’s Tiniest Chameleon Found in Madagascar

This unbelievable creature seems right out of a fairytale.

Apr 25, 2021
World’s Tiniest Chameleon Found in Madagascar | This unbelievable creature seems right out of a fairytale.

Imagine a reptile so small, it can fit comfortably on the tip of your finger. This type of creature sounds like it must belong in a cartoon or a children’s book. Scientists in Madagascar have found such a chameleon, its body measuring in at just half an inch long! 

This subspecies of chameleon may be the tiniest reptile on Earth, according to The Guardian. A German-Malagasy team led by the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology were researching in northern Madagascar when they discovered two pint-sized lizards, one female and one male.

Named Brookesia nana, or nano-chameleon, the body of the male from top to tail is only 0.87 inches long, as noted by the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich. Out of the 11,500 known reptile species in the world, this chameleon comes in as the smallest. 

The nano-chameleon’s size is comparable to a sunflower seed and could be easily missed in the blades of African grass. Although still miniature, the body of the female nano-chameleon is a bit bigger, measuring in at 1.14 inches.

Some of the smallest primates, tiniest frogs, and most miniature forms of vertebrates in the world are found in Madagascar, Andolalao Rakotoarison, a herpetologist from the University of Antananarivo told Phys.Org.

In addition to just noting their small size, it was important for the researchers to figure out if the nano-chameleons were babies or adults. "With the aid of micro-CT scans—essentially three-dimensional X-rays—we were able to identify two eggs in the female specimen, and so demonstrate that it is an adult," Mark Scherz of the University of Potsdam explained to Phys.Org.

The team searched for more specimens but could find none, making this female and male the only known reptiles of their species. Since their survival is dire, they may soon be considered critically endangered.

As stated by Oliver Hawlitschek from the Centrum für Naturkunde in Hamburg on Phys.Org, "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.”

Although these nano-chameleons are so tiny, being small does have some advantages. There may be evidence that smaller chameleons can easily catch insects with their “ballistic tongues,” according to Nature. This makes hunting for food more efficient and can help ensure they will not go hungry. It is thought that nano-chameleons search through leaf litter on the forest floor for their next meal, finding mites, springtails, and other tiny invertebrates, according to National Geographic.

The discovery of the miniscule nano-chameleons sheds light on what is possible in nature and what is still unknown. It also awakens the imagination, making fairy tales come alive. So the next time you are walking outside, be careful where you step; you never know what small creature may be tucked away on a blade of grass!

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Jackie Schindler teaches EFL to students between the ages of 5-15. She is passionate about making English relevant, fun and memorable. She always tries to look on the bright side in every situation. She is an avid reader, writer, traveler and always on the hunt for the best iced coffee.