This irascible-looking little guy was recently discovered by biologists on the small island of Nosy Hara, in northern Madagascar. Members of this newly discovered species are on average an inch long from snout to tail tip, a remarkably tiny size that puts them among the world’s smallest reptiles. When not turning their baleful glares at the camera, they run around in a landscape of limestone boulders and leaf fragments and at night roost in low-hanging vegetation no more than a couple inches from the ground. Their diminutive size seems to be the evolutionary result of a phenomenon called island dwarfism, by which animals slowly shrink in size, perhaps in response to the limited resources available on an island (though it also goes the other way, a phenomenon called island gigantism, possibly a result of having few predators).
The species’ name, reflecting its tiny-ness, is Brookesia micra.
Researchers say a tiny chameleon in Madagascar can lay claim to a strange record: It has the shortest lifespan of all four-limbed vetebrates. The astonishing Furcifer labordi spends eight months inside its egg, hatches in November, and then spends four months reaching maturity and mating before dying in April. By then the members of the next generation are already contained inside their eggs, ready to begin the cycle again.
The chameleon’s short life coincides with the rainy season in the arid region of Madagascar, and study coauthor Christopher Raxworthy says the lifecycle may be a response to the harsh climate. Raxworthy said that at about 3 inches long, F. labordi is the smallest of the region’s chameleons and may be less able to compete for food or more prone to desiccation in the dry season. “The best payoff may be to produce larger clutches and more offspring, rather than to conserve reserves and try to make it through the dry season as an adult,” he said [The New York Times].