When you think of the world of reptiles, you think of crocodiles and geckos. However, among these fascinating creatures is a tiny nano chameleon known as the Brookesia nana, or B. nana, which is now the smallest chameleon in the world. Herpetologist Frank Glaw and other researchers discovered it in 2021 in the rainforest of northern Madagascar. Previously, the Brookesia micra was the smallest known reptile found in 2012. The newest Brookesia nana is just the size of a sunflower seed. With this discovery, many scientists and reptile enthusiasts are fascinated to learn more about this tiny little friend.
Let’s take a look at the Brookesia nana and its origins.
What Is the Nano Chameleon?
The nano chameleon Brookesia nana is one of the newer reptiles discovered in the Madagascar forest, also known as the B. nana for short, due to its small stature. Currently, it’s known as the smallest chameleon out of 11,500 known reptiles. It measures 21.6 mm (just under one inch) when fully grown. For comparison, a regular chameleon grows to be around 7 to 10 inches long.
One of the speculations people have is that it could be likely that the chameleons found were not fully grown. While this certainly could be the case, the research team did their best to rule this out. They took one of the two discovered Brookesia nanas and found out one was a female by putting it underneath a micro-CT scan. The scan revealed that the female had developing eggs, which indicates that the species was of reproductive age, which meant it was an adult.
As of right now, only two specimens of Brookesia nana have been found. Researchers have been keeping a close eye on the two and hope to see more in the future.
Miniaturization and Evolution of the Brookesia nana
Evolution has ensured that the tiny chameleon has a chance to survive in a harsh environment. The term for this evolutionary phenomenon is called island dwarfism, which is a fancy way to say evolution has shrunk the organism’s overall body size. A smaller body, in turn, means that the organisms will need fewer resources to survive.
A closer look at where the Brookesia nana originated is questionable because they aren’t shrinking due to isolation. Instead, the northern Madagascar rainforest of Soata massif has dense foliage and brush and many animals competing for resources. Furthermore, the people of Madagascar need to use more resources to sustain the growing population, which results in deforestation and more competition to survive. This leads to speculation that this evolutionary change was due to the loss of habitat.
The Unique Characteristics of the Nano Chameleon
While a new discovery, the Brookesia nana has a few features that set it apart from its other scaled friends. Below, we’ll get into how these traits differ from other chameleons.
The Brookesia nana Doesn’t Change Color
Madagascar chameleon species are known for being some of the most colorful and vibrant reptiles. However, the small Brookesia nana can’t change color. This trait is speculated by scientists that since the creature only stays at ground level, there isn’t much to blend in with besides the grass and leaves.
The chameleon already has similar coloring to its natural surroundings, so a change of color would likely not benefit the species from a survival standpoint. Furthermore, the Brookesia nana has a blotchy brown color making it almost impossible to spot amongst grass and dirt.
The Brookesia nana Isn’t Arboreal
Other chameleons tend to be arboreal, a term for organisms that inhabit trees. Unlike other reptiles in the Madagascar forest, the Brookesia nana is a floor-dwelling creature. It scurries across the rainforest floor during the day and lives on blades of grass at night.
This phenomenon is likely due to heavy deforestation in Madagascar. A huge habitat loss can trigger evolution in a species so that it can thrive in its new environment. With fewer trees due to deforestation, the Brookesia nana found a new environment to thrive in.
Nano Chameleon Endangerment and Threat to Environment
Being one of the smallest reptiles, the Nano Chameleon has almost made its way onto the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. This list describes species that are going extinct, which the Brookesia nana is soon to be due to a deteriorating environment.
Madagascar has a growing population and a high poverty level. Due to this, deforestation is increasing as more resources are needed for the community to grow. To survive, the people of Madagascar use the surrounding rainforest for agricultural needs and to help breed livestock.
Luckily the Sorata massif is a protected area where the Brookesia nana lives. If the area is kept from deforestation, the tiny chameleon will likely not make it onto the IUCN list.
The Brookesia nana is rare, and researchers still have much to learn about the species. With only two spotted so far, it’s difficult to say when scientists will be able to learn more about this creature. The discovery of the nano chameleon is a testament to how island dwarfism can help species adapt and survive, even when not isolated. With Madagascar’s environment becoming deforested, we may not even learn more about the Brookesia nana, as it could go extinct. Hopefully, this small and adorable reptile will continue to evolve, so its species doesn’t die out.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Frank Glaw, Jörn Köhler, Oliver Hawlitschek, Fanomezana M. Ratsoavina, Andolalao Rakotoarison, Mark D. Scherz & Miguel Vences, CC BY 4.0
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