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 How brains surrender to sleep
23.06.2017 | IMP - Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pathologie GmbH

nachricht A new technique isolates neuronal activity during memory consolidation
22.06.2017 | Spanish National Research Council (CSIC)

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

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

Im Focus: Can we see monkeys from space? Emerging technologies to map biodiversity

An international team of scientists has proposed a new multi-disciplinary approach in which an array of new technologies will allow us to map biodiversity and the risks that wildlife is facing at the scale of whole landscapes. The findings are published in Nature Ecology and Evolution. This international research is led by the Kunming Institute of Zoology from China, University of East Anglia, University of Leicester and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research.

Using a combination of satellite and ground data, the team proposes that it is now possible to map biodiversity with an accuracy that has not been previously...

Im Focus: Climate satellite: Tracking methane with robust laser technology

Heatwaves in the Arctic, longer periods of vegetation in Europe, severe floods in West Africa – starting in 2021, scientists want to explore the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane with the German-French satellite MERLIN. This is made possible by a new robust laser system of the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT in Aachen, which achieves unprecedented measurement accuracy.

Methane is primarily the result of the decomposition of organic matter. The gas has a 25 times greater warming potential than carbon dioxide, but is not as...

Im Focus: How protons move through a fuel cell

Hydrogen is regarded as the energy source of the future: It is produced with solar power and can be used to generate heat and electricity in fuel cells. Empa researchers have now succeeded in decoding the movement of hydrogen ions in crystals – a key step towards more efficient energy conversion in the hydrogen industry of tomorrow.

As charge carriers, electrons and ions play the leading role in electrochemical energy storage devices and converters such as batteries and fuel cells. Proton...

Im Focus: A unique data centre for cosmological simulations

Scientists from the Excellence Cluster Universe at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich have establised "Cosmowebportal", a unique data centre for cosmological simulations located at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences. The complete results of a series of large hydrodynamical cosmological simulations are available, with data volumes typically exceeding several hundred terabytes. Scientists worldwide can interactively explore these complex simulations via a web interface and directly access the results.

With current telescopes, scientists can observe our Universe’s galaxies and galaxy clusters and their distribution along an invisible cosmic web. From the...

Im Focus: Scientists develop molecular thermometer for contactless measurement using infrared light

Temperature measurements possible even on the smallest scale / Molecular ruby for use in material sciences, biology, and medicine

Chemists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) in cooperation with researchers of the German Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM)...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Plants are networkers

19.06.2017 | Event News

Digital Survival Training for Executives

13.06.2017 | Event News

Global Learning Council Summit 2017

13.06.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Quantum thermometer or optical refrigerator?

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

A 100-year-old physics problem has been solved at EPFL

23.06.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Equipping form with function

23.06.2017 | Information Technology

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>