Small enough to stand on the head of a match. A juvenile of Brookesia micra, one of the smallest reptiles in the world. Photo by Jörn Köhler
Like an alien: A portrait of an adult specimen of one of the newly discovered mini chamaleons, Brookesia desperata. Photo by Frank Glaw
All of the newly discovered chameleons appear to be restricted to very small distribution ranges, sometimes limited to a few square kilometers. "For this reason they might be especially sensitive to habitat destruction" says Jörn Köhler of the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt. "One of the new species, Brookesia desperata, is known only from a small rainforest remnant, and although this area is officially protected, it has suffered severe habitat degradation". The future survival of Brookesia tristis is uncertain as well. In the time since its habitat was designated a nature reserve, illegal logging has increased significantly - probably at least partially due to the current political crisis in Madagascar. The species names of these two chameleons (desperata = desperate, tristis = sad) were consciously chosen to call attention to their uncertain futures.
"The tiny new chameleons show remarkable genetic divergences between species, although superficially they closely resemble each other. This indicates that they separated from each other millions of years ago - even earlier than many other chameleon species,” says Miguel Vences from the Technical University of Braunschweig. "The genus Brookesia is the most basal group within chameleons", adds Ted Townsend of San Diego State University, who carried out the genetic studies. "This suggests that chameleons might have evolved in Madagascar from small and inconspicuous ancestors, quite unlike the larger and more colourful chameleons most familiar to us today.”
Yvonne Mielatz | idw
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