Tiny chameleon could be smallest reptile on Earth

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Brookesia nana, identified as Earth's smallest known reptile, in Madagascar. Picture: AFP/Bavarian State Collection of Zoology/Frank Glaw media_cameraBrookesia nana, identified as Earth’s smallest known reptile, in Madagascar. Picture: AFP/Bavarian State Collection of Zoology/Frank Glaw

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It easily fits on a human fingertip, but this chameleon is big news.

Scientists from Madagascar and Germany say a newly discovered species of chameleon is a contender for the title of world’s smallest reptile.

Frank Glaw, part of the international team of researchers that classified the new species found on Madagascar and named it Brookesia nana, said the body of the male specimen appeared to be just 13.5mm long.

That’s at least 1.5mm smaller than the previous record holder, another member of the Brookesia family.

Dr Glaw, a herpetologist* at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology in Munich, Germany, said the tiny male and a slightly larger female were spotted on a mountainside by a local guide during a 2012 expedition.

“You really have to get down on your knees to find them,” he said. “They are obviously camouflaged and they move very slowly.”

media_cameraThe tiny chameleon Brookesia nana sitting on a fingertip. Picture: AFP/Bavarian State Collection of Zoology/Frank Glaw

Dr Glaw and his colleagues performed a scan of the female and discovered that it contained two eggs, confirming that it was an adult.

For the male, the researchers took a close look at its genitals, which in chameleons come in pairs known as hemipenes.

They found that the genitals of the Brookesia nana specimen were almost one-fifth of its body size, possibly to allow it to mate with the larger female.

“I have few doubts it’s an adult male,” Dr Glaw said. “If we had a pair mating it would obviously be better proof.”

Confirming Brookesia nana as the smallest reptile species will require finding more of them, which might take several years, he said.

The team’s research was recently published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Chameleons are threatened by deforestation* on Madagascar, which is home to numerous species.

Supplied Editorial Top End saltwater crocodile. Image: Department of Environment and  Natural Resources media_cameraA saltwater crocodile in the Northern Territory. These are the largest living reptiles and usually grow up to 6m long but have been seen 10m long. Reticulated pythons can grow to 6.5m long. Picture: Department of Environment and Natural Resources

GLOSSARY

herpetologist: reptile expert deforestation: removal of forest

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QUICK QUIZ

    What sort of reptile is this? In which country was it found? When was it found? What is Dr Glaw an expert about? How did the scientists know they had found a female? How long can reticulated pythons grow to be?

LISTEN TO THIS STORY

CLASSROOM ACTIVITIES
1. Chameleon Acrostic
Work with a partner and create an acrostic poem on the new chameleon species. You can use some facts from the article and some of your own or other classmates’ knowledge to finish the poem.

C

H

A

M

E

L

E

O

N

Time: allow 25 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and social

2. Extension
What else can you think of that measures the same as this new chameleon species, which is 13.5mm long?

Draw a line 13.5mm long and write some other things that measure this length.

Time: allow 15 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: Mathematics

VCOP ACTIVITY
Proper Noun Police
A proper noun is a noun that names a particular person, place or thing. It always has a capital letter.

How many proper nouns can you find within this article? Find them all and sort them into the category of name, place, time (date/month).

Can you find any proper nouns included in your writing?

What are they?

Can you sort them into their categories?

HAVE YOUR SAY: Give the tiny chameleon a catchier name than Brookesia nana
No one-word answers. Use full sentences to explain your thinking. No comments will be published until approved by editors.

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