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Surprising Science

The World’s Littlest Lizards Fit on the End of a Q-Tip

Scientists have discovered four new species of chameleon in Northern Madagascar, including the Brookesia micra, which now has the distinction of being the world’s tiniest known lizard. Speedy runners, these chameleons are nearly impossible to catch during the day, so scientists waited until night time when they were sleeping, and used flashlights to spot them close up.

Naturally, there’s an evolutionary hypothesis for why the reptile can fit in your palm: the smaller an animal is, the less resources it needs to consume in order to survive and reproduce — a clear advantage during lean times when food is scarce. On small islands like Madagascar, species tend to be either “giants” or “dwarfs,” to better cope with fierce competition in their environments.

According to PBS, in contrast to reptiles, “rodents tend toward gigantism.” Carnivores, lagomorphs (rabbits and hares), and artiodactyls (deer, hippos, and other even-toed ungulates) on the other hand, “are more likely to become dwarfed.” This observation occurs so frequently, it’s known informally as “the island rule.” 

In order to give a sense of the chameleon’s size, photographers placed the Brookesia micra on the head of a match against an orange background.

For more reading on wildlife photography, check out our interview with Sebastian Copeland, a well-known photographer and environmental activist who discusses what it’s like to shoot in extreme environments such as Antartica, the advent of the digital camera, and getting the best shot in even the most unpredictable of circumstances.

“It’s not uncommon for me to shoot the same environment time and again until I get it right,” he says, because you’re never sure if the moment that you have is gonna yield a better result than if you wait.. and in that process also get to understand more the subject that you’re in… you’re gonna catch as catch can.” Watch the video:

Photo courtesy of Jorn Koheler


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