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Scientists find the world’s tiniest, most hung chameleon

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the nano-chameleon – a newly discovered species which may be the smallest, most hung reptile on Earth.

Recently discovered in a patch of rainforest in northern Madagascar, Brookesia nana (or B. nana for short) is a nano-chameleon that’s roughly the size of a sunflower seed, easily fits on the tip of your finger, and is cute as f*ck!

In fact, this nano-chameleon is so small that it’s though to live off a diet of springtails and mites that it hunts down in the leaf litter of its habitat.

Female Nano-Chameleon
Photo: Frank Glaw via National Geographic

“At the first glance, we realized that it was an important discovery,” said Andolalao Rakotoarison, a Malagasy herpetologist and co-author of the new study published in Nature.

The researchers confirmed that only two specimens of this petite nano-chameleon have been discovered, one male and one female. While the female’s body clocks in around 29mm (1.1 inches) in length, the males are even smaller at 22mm (0.9 inches) long – making it the smallest reptile in the world.

Before you ask, yes, they’re adults. Researchers conducted micro CT scans of the female and found two eggs inside of her, indicating maturity. Similarly, the male appeared to be mature, but more so due to his “well developed” genitals, which made up 18.5 per cent of his total body size.

That’s one hung chameleon. Why? Well, apparently he needs that much junk to mate with significantly larger females. Researchers still aren’t sure why the species is so damn small. Current proposals include the “island effect,” where animals trapped on small islands tend to evolve smaller body sizes.

However, the researchers say that B. nana is found in the mountains on mainland Madagascar, making that hypothesis unlikely. The nano-chameleon’s lineage also raises some questions.

“The closest relative of the new chameleon is also not the similarly tiny Brookesia micra, but instead the nearly twice as large B. karchei, which occurs in the same mountains,” Jörn Köhler, an author of the study said.

“That shows that this extreme miniaturization has arisen convergently in these chameleons.”

Unfortunately, the mountain forest where the well-endowed lizards are found is already severely degraded, Rakotoarison says. Many people in this region of Madagascar cannot afford to buy meat or rice. As such, poverty and growing populations have caused the clearing of large areas of rainforests to make room for agriculture and livestock.

In fact, deforestation affects around 94 per cent of Madagascar’s previously forested lands, according to NASA’s research. As the hung lizards’ habitat is likely to be tiny too, perhaps limited to a few acres, there’s a risk that this species could go extinct.

“Unfortunately, the habitat of the Nano-Chameleon is under heavy pressure from deforestation, but the area has recently been designated as a protected area, and hopefully that will enable this tiny new chameleon to survive,” Oliver Hawlitschek, another author of the study, said.