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Tiny chameleons turn up in Madagascar

Feb. 15, 2012
Courtesy of Public Library of Science
and World Science staff

Four new spe­cies of mini-lizards have been iden­ti­fied in Mada­gas­car—high­light­ing the need for great­er con­serva­t­ion ef­forts in that eco­logic­ally threat­ened is­land be­fore such rare crea­tures van­ish, re­search­ers say.

The lizards, just cen­time­ters from head to tail and some of them small enough to stand on the head of a match when young, rank among world’s small­est rep­tiles, sci­en­tists say. They re­port the finds in the Feb. 15 is­sue of the re­search jour­nal PLoS One.

Im­ages of the liz­ard Brooke­sia mi­cra from Nosy Hara, north­ern Mad­a­gas­car. (A) adult male, about 2 cm (less than an inch) long. (B) A ju­ve­nile on a fin­ger tip. (C) A ju­ve­nile on head of a match. (D) The area along a small creek on west­ern flank of Nosy Hara, where some of the crea­tures were found. (Cred­it: PLoS One)


The re­search­ers, led by Frank Glaw of the Zo­o­log­i­cal State Col­lec­tion of Mu­nich in Ger­ma­ny, al­so con­ducted a ge­net­ic anal­y­sis to de­ter­mine that the mini lizards, though si­m­i­lar in ap­pear­ance to oth­ers, are in fact dis­tinct spe­cies. 

The small­est of the new spe­cies, Brooke­sia mi­cra, was found only on a very small is­let called Nosy Hara, and the au­thors sug­gest that this spe­cies may rep­re­sent an ex­treme case of a phe­nom­e­non called “is­land dwarfis­m.”

Nu­mer­ous an­i­mals evolve in­to dwarf forms on is­lands, and the same has hap­pened to hu­mans in at least one case, ac­cord­ing to many sci­en­tists. One re­cent study has found that the road to dwarf­ism is rel­a­tively fast in ev­o­lu­tion­ary terms, about 10 times faster than equiv­a­lent in­creases in size.

A frog dis­cov­ered in New Guin­ea re­cently rep­re­sents the world’s small­est back­boned an­i­mal, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tists, and is even smaller than the new­found lizards, though they come fairly close.

“The ex­treme min­iatur­iz­a­tion of these dwarf rep­tiles might be ac­com­pa­nied by nu­mer­ous spe­cial­iz­a­tions of the body­plan, and this con­sti­tutes a prom­is­ing field for fu­ture re­search,” said Glaw. “But most ur­gent is to fo­cus con­serva­t­ion ef­forts on these and oth­er mi­cro-en­demic spe­cies in Mad­a­gas­car which are heavily threat­ened by de­for­esta­t­ion.”


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Four new species of mini-lizards have been identified in Madagascar—pointing to the need for greater conservation efforts in that ecologically threatened island before such rare creatures vanish, researchers say. The lizards, just centimeters from head to tail and some of them small enough to stand on the head of a match when young, rank among world’s smallest reptiles, scientists say. They report the finds in the Feb. 15 issue of the research journal PloS One. The researchers, led by Frank Glaw of the Zoological State Collection of Munich in Germany, also conducted a genetic analysis to determine that the mini lizards, though similar in appearance to others, are in fact distinct species. The smallest of the new species, Brookesia micra, was found only on a very small islet called Nosy Hara, and the authors suggest that this species may represent an extreme case of a phenomenon called “island dwarfism.” Numerous animals evolve into dwarf forms on islands, and the same has happened to humans in at least one case, according to many scientists. One recent study has found that the road to dwarfism is relatively fast in evolutionary terms, about 10 times faster than equivalent increases in size. A frog discovered in New Guinea recently represented the world’s smallest backboned animal, according to scientists, and is even smaller than the newfound lizards, though they come fairly close. “The extreme miniaturization of these dwarf reptiles might be accompanied by numerous specializations of the bodyplan, and this constitutes a promising field for future research,” said Glaw. “But most urgent is to focus conservation efforts on these and other microendemic species in Madagascar which are heavily threatened by deforestation.”