Tiny chameleon may be smallest reptile on earth

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Brookesia nana sp. nov. in life. (Creative Commons http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

(NEXSTAR) – Researchers have discovered a new species of chameleon so tiny it can sit snugly on a human fingertip. They say it may be the smallest reptile on earth.

The species, named Brookesia nana, was first described in an article published last week in the journal Scientific Reports.

Only two adult specimens are known, leading researchers to infer that the species may be endangered.

The female measures less than 28.9 millimeters — about the diameter of a lightbulb base — while the male is considerably smaller, at 21.6 millimeters long (imagine the diameter of a nickel).

Curiously, nearly 20 percent of the male chameleon’s body length is composed of its genitals, which may have adapted to better fit its female counterparts.

Smallness has its benefits, though the adaptive reasoning for Brookesia nana’s particularly minute stature remains a mystery. According to Science News, there’s evidence that small chameleons have high-performing ballistic tongues.

Brookesia nana belongs to a genus with at least 13 other tiny chameleons. During the day, the researchers suspect that the reptiles eat mites and other invertebrates, while at night they cling to blades of grass and other plants.

The teeny reptiles live in a heavily forested region of Madagascar, which was recently named a protected area.

“It’s all good and well to say, ‘Oh, I really hope that people stop deforesting this forest,’” Mark Scherz, an evolutionary biologist and study co-author, told National Geographic. “But until the economic future of Madagascar changes, there’s no hope for any of its wildlife because the people have to eat.”

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