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‘Smallest reptile on earth’ discovered in Madagascar

A minute lizard discovered in Madagascar may be the smallest reptile found on our planet.

Scientists believe that they may have discovered the smallest reptile on earth, a chameleon subspecies that is roughly the size of a sunflower seed.  A pair of the minuscule lizards, one of each sex, were found by a German-Madagascan expedition team in Madagascar.

The body of the male Brookesia nana, or nano-chameleon, is just 13.5mm long, and its total length including its tail is 22mm.  This makes it the smallest of around 11,5000 known reptile species, according to the Bavarian State collection of Zoology in Munich.

The female is considerably larger, at around 29mm.  The species is most closely related to the slightly larger Brookesia micra, discovered in 2012.

The chameleon is most closely related to the Brookesia micra. © Artush/Shutterstock

Despite ‘great effort’, further specimens are yet to be located, according to the institute. Scientists assume that the lizard’s habitat is small, as is the case for similar subspecies.  The Scientific Reports journal states that the chameleon is only known to exist in a degraded montane rainforest in northern Madagascar, and may be threatened by extinction.

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.’

The chameleon is only known to exist in a degraded montane rainforest in northern Madagascar. © Sean Newbery/Shutterstock

Researchers found that the chameleon hunts for mites on the rainforest floor and eludes predators at night by hiding in blades of grass.

Dr Mark Scherz, one of the researchers involved in the discovery, explained that the forests where the Brookesia were located remain well-connected with others across the north of the island.  The species therefore defies the trend of the smallest species being discovered on small islands, suggesting that another factor is allowing or causing the chameleons to miniaturise.

In the report, the scientists recommended that the species be listed as Critically Endangered in the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species, in order to help protect it and its habitat.

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