Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

The littlest lizard

04.12.2001


World’s smallest reptile is discovered in the Caribbean forest.


Turn on a dime: the Jaragua lizard.
© S.B. Hedges


Isla Beata and the Dominican Republic.
© S.B. Hedges



At just 16 mm from nose to tail, the Jaragua lizard is the world’s smallest. In fact, it’s the smallest vertebrate that can reproduce on dry land1.

The newly discovered lizard lives on Isla Beata, a small, forest-covered island in the Caribbean off the Dominican Republic. Blair Hedges, an evolutionary biologist at Pennsylvania State University, together with Richard Thomas of the University of Puerto Rico, San Juan, found the lizard in three sites, including one at the very southern tip of mainland Dominica. The researchers believe the lizard lives only in these areas.


The Jaragua (Sphaerodactylus ariasae) may be about as small as a land vertebrate - the 23,000 species of reptiles, birds and mammals - can get. Smaller animals have a proportionately greater surface area, making them more vulnerable to drying out. Another biological size limit could be the minimum size needed for a functioning nervous system, suggests Aaron Bauer, who studies reptiles at Villanova University, Pennsylvania.

Bauer thinks that other tiny lizards are probably out there - one of a similar size is known from the British Virgin Islands. But Hedges believes that the Jaragua will hold its record for some time. "It’s not likely we’ll encounter a smaller one next year," he says.

Small is beautiful

The Caribbean is also home to the world’s smallest bird, frog and snake. Michael Smith, of Conservation International in Washington DC, thinks that diminutive animals could become the poster children for the region’s wildlife.

"The Caribbean doesn’t have large, charismatic species. But we could turn the idea on its head, and make these unique elements of biodiversity icons of conservation," says Smith, an expert on Caribbean biodiversity.

Such icons are sorely needed. Only 10% of the Caribbean’s original forests remain, and a wave of extinction may soon hit the region. "We’re going to have losses, it’s just a matter of time," Smith says.

Despite this, he is optimistic for the Jaragua lizard’s prospects. Isla Beata is part of a national park, and local people have formed conservation organizations. The park’s remoteness and ruggedness give further protection.

Giant pigeons, pygmy elephants

Islands are natural evolutionary laboratories. Their isolation means that the creatures that do wash up, perhaps clinging to floating vegetation, have less competition, and can evolve to do ecological jobs that are already taken on the mainland.

In the Jaragua lizard’s case, it has downsized to "live like an insect", says Bauer. It feeds on small insects, and must be on guard against being eaten by centipedes and scorpions.

Island species are often unusually large or small. Mauritius’ dodo, for example, was an overgrown pigeon, while the ancient inhabitants of Crete included a pygmy elephant and hippopotamus.

References

  1. Hedges, S. B., Thomas, R. At the lower size limit in amniote vertebrates: a new diminutive lizard from the West Indies. Caribbean Journal of Science, 37, 168 - 173, (2001).


JOHN WHITFIELD | © Nature News Service

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht A Map of the Cell’s Power Station
18.08.2017 | Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg im Breisgau

nachricht On the way to developing a new active ingredient against chronic infections
18.08.2017 | Deutsches Zentrum für Infektionsforschung

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Fizzy soda water could be key to clean manufacture of flat wonder material: Graphene

Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.

As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...

Im Focus: Exotic quantum states made from light: Physicists create optical “wells” for a super-photon

Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.

Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...

Im Focus: Circular RNA linked to brain function

For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.

While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...

Im Focus: RAVAN CubeSat measures Earth's outgoing energy

An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.

The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...

Im Focus: Scientists shine new light on the “other high temperature superconductor”

A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Call for Papers – ICNFT 2018, 5th International Conference on New Forming Technology

16.08.2017 | Event News

Sustainability is the business model of tomorrow

04.08.2017 | Event News

Clash of Realities 2017: Registration now open. International Conference at TH Köln

26.07.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

A Map of the Cell’s Power Station

18.08.2017 | Life Sciences

Engineering team images tiny quasicrystals as they form

18.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Researchers printed graphene-like materials with inkjet

18.08.2017 | Materials Sciences

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>