FEB 10, 2021 3:01 PM PST

Is the Nano-Chameleon the World's Smallest Reptile Species?

WRITTEN BY: Tiffany Dazet

Say “hello!” to the nano-chameleon, a top contender for the world’s smallest reptile. According to the Associated Press, this tiny reptile—reportedly small enough to fit on a human fingertip— was spotted during a 2012 expedition in Madagascar. The AP reports that Frank Glaw, a reptile expert at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich, named this species Brookesia nana.

Just how small is a nano-chameleon? An adult male measured a total of 22 millimeters in length, with a snout-vent length is only 13.5 millimeters. According to the AP, CT scans revealed “well-developed” genitals in the male and two eggs in a female specimen, confirming that they were fully-grown adults. Before the discovery of this species, the smallest reptile record was held by another dwarf chameleon in the Brookesia genus. Brookesia micra measured 15.3 millimeters, with the largest specimen measured at 20 millimeters for a female.

The study documented the discovery of this new species was published in Scientific Reports last month. According to the study, only two specimens and a single location are known. In order to confirm whether nano-chameleons are truly the smallest reptile on record, scientists need to find and document more specimens. The scientists report that this is a challenging task for a couple of reasons, including the chameleons’ minute size. As Glaw stated to the AP, “You really have to get down on your knees to find them. They are obviously well camouflaged, and they move very slowly.” Additionally, nano-chameleons are found only in a small area in northern Madagascar in remote forests. Expeditions to search for additional specimens need to occur to solidify this species’ standing as the world’s smallest reptile.

The study reports that “one striking feature of miniaturized chameleons is the relatively large size of their genital organs,” although the benefit of this is not yet understood. In this and other small chameleon species, females are larger, and scientists think that increased genital size may help males mate more easily. According to the study, more research regarding female genitalia is needed to confirm this hypothesis.

Like all chameleons, reptiles, and other animals that call Madagascar home, these nano-chameleons have an uncertain future due to continuing deforestation.

Sources: Associated Press, Scientific Reports

About the Author
  • Tiffany grew up in Southern California, where she attended San Diego State University. She graduated with a degree in Biology with a marine emphasis, thanks to her love of the ocean and wildlife. With 13 years of science writing under her belt, she now works as a freelance writer in the Pacific Northwest.
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