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Tiny chameleon a contender for title of smallest reptile

UPDATED: Fri., Feb. 5, 2021

A newly discovered species of chameleon, a contender for the title of world’s smallest reptile, is seen 2012 in Munich.  (Frank Glaw/Associated Press)
A newly discovered species of chameleon, a contender for the title of world’s smallest reptile, is seen 2012 in Munich. (Frank Glaw/Associated Press)
Associated Press

Associated Press

BERLIN – It fits on a human fingertip, but this chameleon could make a big splash.

Scientists from Madagascar and Germany say a newly discovered species of chameleon is a contender for the title of world’s smallest reptile.

Frank Glaw, who was part of the international team of researchers that classified the new species and named it Brookesia nana said the body of the male specimen appeared to be just 13.5-millimeters-long (a little more than a 1/2-inch.)

That’s at least 1.5 millimeters smaller than the previous record holder, another member of the Brookesia family.

Glaw, a reptile expert at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich, said the tiny male and a slightly larger female were spotted on a mountainside by a local guide during a 2012 expedition.

“You really have to get down on your knees to find them,” Glaw told the Associated Press in a telephone interview Friday. “They are obviously camouflaged and they move very slowly.”

Glaw and his colleagues performed a CT scan of the female and discovered that it harbored two eggs, confirming that it was an adult.

For the male, the researchers took a close look at its “well-developed” genitals, which in chameleons come in pairs known as hemipenes.

They found that the genitals of the Brookesia nana specimen were almost one-fifth of its body size, possibly to allow it to mate with the larger female.

“I have few doubts it’s an adult male,” Glaw said. “If we had a pair mating it would obviously be better proof.”

Confirming Brookesia nana as the smallest reptile species will require finding more of them, which might take several years, he said.

The team’s research was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Chameleons are threatened by deforestation on Madagascar, which is home to numerous species.

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