Match-tip tiny, Brookesia micra (juvenile pictured) is the smallest of four new chameleon species found on the African island country of Madagascar. With an average adult length of just over an inch (2.9 centimeters) from snout to tail, B. micra is among the tiniest reptiles in the world.
Scientists think the diminutive new chameleon species might represent extreme cases of island dwarfism, whereby organisms shrink in size due to limited resources on islands.
"The extreme miniaturization of these dwarf reptiles might be accompanied by numerous specializations of the body plan, and this constitutes a promising field for future research," study leader Frank Glaw of Germany's Zoological State Collection said in a statement.
Scientists think Brookesia micra (juvenile pictured) might have achieved its small size through a "double" island dwarfism effect, in which the dwarf species Brookesia minima on the Madagascan resort island of Nosy Be found its way to an islet, Nosy Hara, where it shrank even further.
"In this scenario, Madagascar, as a large island, led to the evolution of the Brookesia minima group, whereas the ... islet Nosy Hara might have favored the extreme miniaturization found in Brookesia micra," the researchers write.
On Madagascar a member of the newly discovered chameleon species Brookesia desperata peers at a photographer through widely spaced eyes.
The small sizes of the four new chameleon species make them especially vulnerable to habitat destruction, and some of their names were chosen to reflect this. The latter part of B. desperata's name, for example, means "desperate" in Latin.
"Its habitat is in truth barely protected and subject to numerous human-induced environmental problems resulting in severe habitat destruction, thus threatening the survival of the species," the scientists write.
Another species was named B. tristis, or "sorrowful"—a reference to "the fact that the entire known range of this species suffers from severe deforestation and habitat destruction."
Seemingly embodying her species' new name—B. confidens, or "confident"—a female chameleon stares down a camera lens. The nomenclature, though, has little to do with the reptile itself.
Scientists chose the name because—unlike some of the other newly discovered chameleon species—B. confidens's range is a well-protected nature preserve, and the animal's home is not in immediate danger of habitat destruction by humans.