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Hawk-eyed scientists spot world's smallest chameleon

A chameleon that could rest on the head of a match has been discovered by scientists on a island off Madagascar. The scientists also announced the discovery of three more species of tiny chameleons.

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A juvenile of the tiniest chameleon species ever discovered perches on a researcher's fingertip.

PLoS One

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A species of chameleon small enough to easily perch on a match head has been discovered on a tiny island off Madagascar, a group of scientists has announced.

In addition to the discovery of Brookesia micra, now the tiniest chameleon ever discovered, the researchers also announced the discovery of three additional tiny chameleon species.

Adult males of the B. micra species grow to only just over a half-inch (16 millimeters) from nose to bottom, making them one of the smallest vertebrates ever found on Earth.

From nose to tail, adults of both sexes grow to only 1 inch (30 mm) in length.

Lead researcher Frank Glaw said the team already had experience finding tiny lizards in Madagascar, "but it was also good luck."

The team searched for the tiny lizards under the cover of darkness, using headlamps and flashlights to seek out the sleeping chameleons. All four species are active during the day, and at night climb up into the branches to sleep.

But for such tiny critters, "up into the branches" means a mere 4 inches (10 centimeters) off the ground, Glaw told OurAmazingPlanet, so finding them is no easy task. However, once spotted, the tiny lizards aren't tough to catch, Glaw said.

"They are sleeping and you can just pick them up. It's like picking a strawberry, so it's easy," Glaw said. "They do not move at all at night."

The team of scientists found the tiny reptiles in Madagascar's wild northern regions during expeditions between 2003 and 2007. For three of the species, "we immediately identified them as new species," said Glaw, a veteran herpetologist and curator at the Museum of Natural History in Munich.

"In general, these tiny chameleons are so small that it's really hard to see the small differences with the naked eye," he said.

The researchers warn that at least two of the newly-discovered chameleon species are extremely threatened because of habitat loss and deforestation in Madagascar.

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