National Geographic News
The 'Tarzan' lizard.
The new species' flat snout is unique among chameleons, experts say.

Photograph courtesy Frank Glaw

Christine Dell'Amore

National Geographic News

Published September 2, 2010

There's a new, scalier lord of the jungle: Tarzan the chameleon.

Five-inch-long (13-centimeter-long) Calumma tarzan was found recently in a tiny patch of forest on the vast Indian Ocean island of Madagascar, a new study says.

The new species' name has multiple roots. For one thing, the chameleon's habitat—in what locals call the Tarzan Forest—is near the village formerly known as Tarzanville (recently renamed Ambodimeloka).

For another, the team thought naming the new species after the vine-swinging "ape man" might be a good way to "promote the conservation of this species and of course of the forest that it's living in," according to study leader Philip-Sebastian Gehring, an evolutionary biologist at the Technical University of Braunschweig in Germany. (See Madagascar pictures.)

After all, "Tarzan stands for a jungle hero and fighting for protecting the forest," Gehring said.

(Related: "Lemur Forests Pillaged by 'Gangs' as Madagascar Reels.")

Unique Snout Gave Tarzan Chameleon Away

The Tarzan chameleon was found on a 2009 night survey in eastern Madgascar, which lies off the east coast of mainland Africa.

Scientists immediately recognized the reptile as unique from other chameleons, due to its flat, spadelike snout, Gehring said.

Though the species' numbers are unknown, Gehring and colleagues suspect the Tarzan chameleon will be added to the ranks of critically endangered species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species.

(See related pictures: "Over 200 New Amphibians Found in Madagascar.")

Tarzan Forest Fragmented

Rampant deforestation—which has accelerated throughout Madagascar since a 2009 political coup—has turned the chameleon's habitat into a patchwork of isolated forest fragments, some no bigger than a soccer field. (See "Madagascar's Logging Crisis: Separating Myth From Fact.")

Combined, the fragments account for just about four square miles (ten square kilometers), Gehring said.

Even so, the team found up to 60 chameleons in one fragment alone, suggesting the new species can survive in the remaining pockets—and that the Tarzan chameleon could still come out swinging.

Tarzan-chameleon study published August 20 in the journal Salamandra.

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