Here is the smallest adult reptile ever described

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A team of researchers describes a new species of chameleon native to Madagascar represented by two specimens, including a male considered to be the smallest male reptile in the world.

Say hello to Brookesia babe, a small species of chameleon native to the tropical forests of northern Madagascar. A team of researchers from the Bavarian State Zoological Collection in Munich (Germany) has just described two specimens (one male and one female) in the journal Scientific reports.

The researchers were particularly surprised by the measurements of the male. Measuring only 13.5 mm from the muzzle to the cesspool (a “Swiss army knife” organ allowing the release of eggs, the evacuation of urine and faeces, but also reproduction), it is the most small adult reptile never described.

The female is a little larger, measuring 19.2 mm from muzzle to cesspool. Note that this specimen is slightly larger than the Caribbean gecko Sphaerodactylus ariasae, which currently holds the title of the world’s smallest female reptile.

Since the general body plan of reptiles is quite similar to that of mammals and humans, it is fascinating to see how miniaturized these organisms and their organs can be.“, Underlines Frank Glaw, herpetologist and lead author of the study.

The genitals of the chameleon. Credits: Glaw et al., Scientific Reports, 2021

“Huge” genitals

However, not all organs are so miniaturized. Recall that in squamates (a large order of reptiles), males develop a pair of reproductive organs called hemipenes. These two tubular genitalia (visible above) are invaginated inside a sheath in the inner portion of the tail, before being devaginated at the time of mating. In Brookesia babe, these hemipenes are about 2.5mm long when fully turned. This represents approximately 18.5% of the total length of his body.

Surprisingly, this is not an unusual trait in reptiles according to the researchers. Genital length in related chameleons indeed varies from 6.3% to 32.9% of total body length male with an average of 13.1% out of 52 species recorded.

Naturally, it is still difficult to decide on the state of conservation of this chameleon species based only on two specimens. The researchers therefore plan to continue research in these same forests. However, the latter being the scene of many human activities such as deforestation and agriculture, these small reptiles are probably also in danger.

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