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A new chameleon from Madagascar and discussion of Free State species.

A contender for the title of the world’s smallest reptile species has recently been described: the minute chameleon π΅π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘œπ‘˜π‘’π‘ π‘–π‘Ž π‘›π‘Žπ‘›π‘Ž was found in late 2012 in northern Madagascar, though the official publication describing the new species was published in January 2021.

This tiny lizard is known from only two specimens – a male and a female, with the male reaching a total length of 2.16 cm and the female 2.89 cm. Both individuals were found to be adults of their kind. The scarcity of this species is alarming – it joins the ~14% of reptile species that are known exclusively from the place they are first found – but we’re happy to welcome this tiniest of lizards to the world stage. The only known male of the species is shown in the photograph standing on one of the study author’s fingers.

For more information on the newly-described π΅π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘œπ‘˜π‘’π‘ π‘–π‘Ž π‘›π‘Žπ‘›π‘Ž, please refer to the scientific publication: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-80955-1

In South Africa we are quite fortunate to have a large number of chameleon species – currently 19 are described, with another 4-8 undescribed species or populations around the country. However, chameleons are usually relatively scarce in the Free State – the Flap-neck Chameleon (πΆβ„Žπ‘Žπ‘šπ‘Žπ‘’π‘™π‘’π‘œ 𝑑𝑖𝑙𝑒𝑝𝑖𝑠 – large green chameleon with black spots pictured) is sometimes found in the northern extremes of the province, and the Drakensberg Dwarf Chameleon (π΅π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘‘π‘¦π‘π‘œπ‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘› π‘‘π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘π‘œπ‘šπ‘œπ‘›π‘‘π‘Žπ‘›π‘’π‘š – smaller brown chameleon photographed on a flower here) is found around Golden Gate National Park in the eastern extremes of the province.

Populations of the Eastern Cape Dwarf Chameleon (π΅π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘‘π‘¦π‘π‘œπ‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘› π‘£π‘’π‘›π‘‘π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘™π‘’ – grey-brown chameleon gripping a green branch) have been introduced to some Free State cities such as Bloemfontein, Welkom and Ladybrand. It is thought that eggs or young individuals were brought to these cities through the nursery or pet trades, and by individuals who kept them in their houses until they escaped, and have since established themselves.

Our South African species are quite different in size to the newly-described Madagascan chameleon π΅π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘œπ‘˜π‘’π‘ π‘–π‘Ž π‘›π‘Žπ‘›π‘Ž which is a mere 2.1-2.9 cm in length – the Flap-neck Chameleon reaches almost 35 cm in length (including the tail), while the dwarf chameleons grow only to 14 cm (Drakensberg Dwarf Chameleon) or 15 cm (Eastern Cape Dwarf Chameleon). If you see a chameleon in the Free State, please take a photo and share it with us at the Free State Reptiles and Amphibians Facebook group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/FreeStateHerps

If you are interested on reading up on South Africa’s chameleons, we highly recommend the Complete Photographic Guide by Tyrone Ping which details his exploits finding each of our species: https://www.tyroneping.co.za/chameleons-south-africa-2/

Text: Dr Cora Stobie

Image 1: The photograph of π΅π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘œπ‘˜π‘’π‘ π‘–π‘Ž π‘›π‘Žπ‘›π‘Ž is cropped and reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/). Please refer to the original scientific publication (link above) for additional information. This photograph belongs to the publication authors F. Glaw, J. KΓΆhler, O. Hawlitschek, F.M. Ratsoavina, A. Rakotoarison, M.D. Scherz and M. Vences.

Images 2,3,4: Photographs of πΆβ„Žπ‘Žπ‘šπ‘Žπ‘’π‘™π‘’π‘œ 𝑑𝑖𝑙𝑒𝑝𝑖𝑠, π΅π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘‘π‘¦π‘π‘œπ‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘› π‘‘π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘π‘œπ‘šπ‘œπ‘›π‘‘π‘Žπ‘›π‘’π‘š, and π΅π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘‘π‘¦π‘π‘œπ‘‘π‘–π‘œπ‘› π‘£π‘’π‘›π‘‘π‘Ÿπ‘Žπ‘™π‘’ courtesy of Tyrone Ping.

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