When you imagine a chameleon, you picture a creature who eludes discovery by changing colors and blending into its surroundings. There is a newly-discovered member of the chameleon clan who employs an additional technique to stay out of view: it is too tiny for most predators to notice. Meet Brookesia micra, the pint-sized contender for a great big title: the world’s smallest reptile.
Brookesia micra is so successful in avoiding detection, that it wasn’t until the 21st century that the species was discovered. The little chameleon resides on an island off the coast of Madagascar. To date, it is the smallest species of chameleon and possibly the smallest reptile on the planet.
When fully grown (and we use that term ironically) adult males can reach the gargantuan size of slightly more than half an inch (16 millimeters) from nose to bottom. When the tail is added in, the total length comes in at just one inch (30 mm). Baby Brookesia micra emerge from eggs that are shockingly enormous when compared to the mother. At 5.8 mm in length, an egg can be one-third of the mother’s body length. Two eggs are generally produced in one laying.
Frank Glaw, the lead researcher of the team that discovered Brookesia micra credits “good luck” for finding the elusive creature. During daylight hours, the chameleon’s size and speed allow it to more easily escape detection. At night, however, with the help of powerful flashlights, it is easier to detect the sleeping critter.
The details of the discovery were published in PLoS One in an article entitled “Rivaling the world’s smallest reptiles: discovery of miniaturized and microendemic new species of leaf chameleons (Brookesia) from northern Madagascar.”
Brookesia micra likes to sleep up in the branches. “Up in the branches” is a relative term, of course, when dealing with such a diminutive animal. For Brookesia micra, sleeping in the penthouse means climbing about 4 inches (10 centimeters) off the ground.
Glaw and his team also discovered three additional species of tiny chameleons on the island. He said Brookesia micra may represent the limit of miniaturization possible for a vertebrate with complex eyes. This theory cannot be proven, of course, unless no smaller creatures are discovered. Given how elusive Brookesia micra has been for all of human history, if it has any smaller relatives, there’s a good chance they will be even more difficult to locate.