Saturday, December 4, 2010

Now you see me (no you don't): The tiny chameleon from Madagascar that's no bigger than a human fingernail


Tiny: The delicate-looking creature is one of the world's smallest chameleons - and can sit on a human thumbnail with room to spare

Barely an inch long from nose to tail, it’s hardly surprising that this tiny animal is rarely spotted.

For this miniscule chameleon is so small that it can sit on a human thumbnail with room to spare.

The miniature creature, from the Brookesia genus, was spotted on an expedition in Amber Mountain Park, Madagascar, by British wildlife photographer Will Burrard-Lucas.

Mr Burrard-Lucas and his brother Matt had just settled down for lunch during when their eagle-eyed guide spotted the creature.

The Brookesia chameleon was camouflaged in the leaf litter, but stayed still as they took a photograph.

Mr Burrard-Lucas, 27, from London, said: ‘It was really amazing to see. It was so tiny it would have been absolutely impossible to find by ourselves, but fortunately our local guide Antonio knew where to look.

‘We were just having our lunch when he spotted it camouflaged under a pile of leaves.
‘They play dead when they sense danger, so we could pick it up very carefully and put it on the end of Matt's thumbnail.

‘This one is a fully-grown adult, so you can imagine how small the babies are.’
Madagascar is famous for its tiny creatures, which have evolved that way because of the island’s unique ecosystem.

Although it has a large landmass, it is divided into many small ecosystems, making it difficult for a large species, and large predators, to thrive there.

‘We were there as part of a four week trip, to photograph as much of Madagascar's unique wildlife as possible, so we were thrilled to see this little creature,’ Mr Burrard-Lucas said.

‘But I'd advise anyone wanting to spot them to take their glasses - otherwise they might not see them at all.’

Pygmy: It is so small it doesn't even need to change colour to help hide from its enemies

Brookesia chameleons may not be as vibrant as their colour-changing larger cousins, but are still skilled in the art of camouflage.

Found in the wild living amongst fallen leaf litter on rainforest floors, they are able to cheat predators by disguising themselves as dead leaves.

British wildlife photographers Matt and Will Burrard-Lucas were lucky to spot the tiny Brookesia during an expedition in Amber Mountain Park, Madagascar.

Remarkably, its tongue is longer than its entire body, allowing it to feed on a variety of tiny insects from small crickets to moths, spiders and even locusts.
But the little chameleon has a threatened conservation status, after being subject to illegal harvesting for the pet trade and loss of habitat.

Anthropologists and paleontologists have always been fascinated by Madagascar's animals.

Madagascar has more unique species of animals than any location except Australia, which is 13 times larger. The island's population includes 70 kinds of lemurs found nowhere else and about 90 percent of the other mammals, amphibians and reptiles are unique to its 226,656 square miles.

The island is located in the Indian Ocean roughly 300 miles east of Africa over the Mozambique Channel and is otherwise isolated from significant land masses.

Its isolation and varied terrain make it a living laboratory for scientists studying evolution and the impact of geography on the evolutionary process.

Scientists believe that creatures on the island were cut off after a land bridge disappeared or that he first animals arrived there on a form of natural rafts that were blown out to sea.

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source: dailymail

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