Camouflage is a useful trait for both predators and prey, but it may be a pain in the neck for field biologists trying to increase their taxonomic contributions. When you’re dealing with an animal the size of your fingertip, like the chameleon detailed in a new study published in Scientific Reports, finding new species becomes much more challenging.
So, where does one look in an ocean of leaves to find a leaf-colored speck? Mark D Scherz, co-author of the study, told IFLScience, “It requires a lot of patience and an eye for it.” “With practice, you can get really good at it, although we frequently collaborate with local guides who specialize in discovering these little chameleons.”
Brookesia micra, a tiny chameleon, was first reported nine years ago by some of the experts involved in the latest study. Scherz and lead author Frank Glaw have recently described an even smaller new species, Brookesia nana, which was previously thought to be the tiniest in the world. “‘Nana’ comes from the same Latin/Greek origin as the word ‘nano-,’ which we use to denote very small size in terms like ‘nanotechnology,'” noted Scherz. The world’s tiniest chameleon is thus appropriately named.
It may be claimed that this species makes up for its lack of size with “quite enormous” genitals, as described by the researchers. Male chameleons frequently tuck their genitals, known as hemipenes, in for protection. A man may occasionally “air out the bits” by flexing them around, and they may also get them out for mating. The hemipenes of B. nana are around 18.5 percent of its body size when out and proud.
It’s difficult to say why these little chameleons are so lucky, but the researchers believe it’s because females have a much larger body size than males. The males’ genitals must be able to mechanically work with the females’ genitals in order to properly reproduce, making larger bits beneficial to the survival and genetic continuity of these animals.
The hemipenes of B. nana are among the longest among small chameleons, but they aren’t quite as long as those of B. nana. Brookesia tuberculata, with a snout-to-vent length of only 18.3 – 20.1 millimeters, has pipped it to the post with a built-in extension on the hemipenes that extends the entire package to nearly 30% of the male body size. It’s all quite impressive.
This adorable chameleon was discovered in Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot and a frequent source of new species. “We’re continuously recognizing and classifying new species from Madagascar,” Scherz remarked. “Even among the most beautiful and charismatic chameleons, there is still so much to learn.” Meanwhile, we’re trying to figure out what evolutionary processes led to Madagascar’s amazing diversity, as well as the challenges that diversity faces.”