Animal World Record

Smallest Reptile

The smallest reptile in the world, the nano-chameleon (Brookesia nana), sitting on a human fingertip

Madagascar, it can be said, is the greatest stronghold of chameleons in the world. Of the 200 or so species, almost half can be found on this huge island. The rest are primarily found in Africa, with a few in Asia, and two species – the common chameleon and the African chameleon – even extending into southern Europe. It may even be the case that the chameleon family as a whole originated in what is now Madagascar before it split off from mainland Africa.

Today, Madagascar is home to a huge variety of chameleons, including both the largest (which, depending on which authority you believe, is either the Malagasy giant chameleon or Parson’s chameleon, both of which can grow to the size of small house cats) and the smallest. An entire genus of miniature, brown-coloured chameleons called Brookesia live down among the leaf litter of Madagascar’s forests, largely unnoticed and poorly studied. Their tails, no longer used for grasping branches, have become quite short and stumpy in many species, and they use their tiny tongues to catch near-microscopic flies.

The very smallest of these pygmy chameleons was, for several years, believed to be Brookesia micra. At just 29 mm in length, this species is the size of a grasshopper. But then, in early 2021, an even smaller chameleon was discovered in Madagascar: Brookesia nana, or the nano-chameleon (seen in the image at the top of the article). The female is about the same size as Brookesia micra, but the males of this minuscule species only reach 22 mm. This makes the male nano-chameleon the smallest adult reptile in the world [1]. Unless, of course, there is an even tinier chameleon out there in the leaf litter of Madagascar, waiting to be discovered…

In the next Madagascar Month post, we’ll be looking at another unusual chameleon, one that only lives for four or five months – along with an assortment of other weird animals that call this great island home, from the tomato frog to the giraffe weevil. It will be a Madagascan Miscellany!


[1] Because the female nano-chameleon is quite a bit longer than the male, the title of smallest adult female reptile goes to the Jaragua dwarf gecko, which lives only in the extreme south of the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean.

Author

  • With a background in conservation and animal behaviour studies, Jason's passion lies in the natural world. He adores all things nature and enjoys nothing more than spotting rare and interesting species out in the wild. He has also worked in a zoo and knows plenty about keeping the animals inside our homes healthy and happy, too.

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