You might not have heard the name Brookesia micra before, but you surely have come across the adorable photograph of a teeny-tiny chameleon standing on the head of a match. Here, you can learn everything that is known about this cute creature!
Table of Contents
1) When was Brookesia micra discovered?
This tiny reptile was discovered on a research trip between 2000 and 2008 during which a lot of new chameleon species were found. This trip was undertaken by a team of American and German researchers led by Frank Glaw of Munich’s Bavarian State Collection of Zoology. The group published their findings first in 2011 in an article for PLOS ONE, an open-access scientific journal.
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2) How small is this reptile?
When fully grown, Brookesia is less than 30 millimeters long in total (that is 1.2 inches). The snout-vent length, which is a common measurement for reptiles and amphibians, and measures the body from the tip of the snout to its “vent” (aka cloaca or anus) so that it excludes the tail, does not exceed 16 millimeters in adult male Brookesia micra.
3) Where do these animals live?
Brookesia micra is endemic to Nosy Hara, an island in Madagascar, which means that they are native to this island and also only live there. Madagascar seems to be an excellent habitat for chameleons since almost half of the about 200 chameleon species known to date are found in this country.
4) Why is Brookesia micra so small?
This question cannot be answered with certainty, but so-called insular dwarfism is a possibility. That is the process of animals evolving into having a small body size, for example, when they live in a habitat that is cut off from external resources, like on an island or on the summit of a very high mountain.
This process of miniaturization can lead to significant changes even in the skeletal structure of animals so that it often paves the road for the evolution of new species.
5) Does Brookesia micra have a different skeleton than other chameleons?
As I mentioned, miniaturization can lead to a different skeletal structure from other related animals. Indeed, Brookesia micra is different from larger chameleons by having only 20 vertebrae instead of the usual 50.
Another difference between the skeletons of Brookesia micra and other chameleons is their inner ear. The semicircular canals in their inner ear look more like those of a turtle than of a chameleon. Scientists suppose that this has evolved to help them with balance and stability.
6) Is it really the smallest reptile in the world?
For almost a decade this was believed to be the case, but just this year an even smaller species was described, again by the team of researchers led by Frank Glaw. Brookesia nana belongs, as the name shows, to the same genus as Brookesia micra, but is even smaller – only about the size of a sunflower seed.
So far, only two individuals of this species have been discovered, a male and a female. This makes it difficult to determine whether Brookesia nana can really be crowned the world’s smallest reptile.
After all, members of a species come in different sizes, and so far, no one can be sure whether the scientists did not just come across a particularly tiny couple.
7) Is Brookesia micra endangered?
Currently, this species is classed as near threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. This means that while Brookesia micra does not yet qualify for the threatened status at the current time, it is likely that it will be threatened by extinction in the near future.
Having such a small habitat makes a threat to habitat loss or change likely, in the case of Madagascar mostly through tourism.
8) Can you keep Brookesia micra as a pet?
No, Brookesia micra is not available as a pet. It lives in a highly sheltered environment and any change to its habitat, as it would invariably happen if people started combing the trees for chameleons to sell to pet owners, would bring this species closer to extinction.
Additionally, these reptiles have been completely secluded from human contact and would not survive in a different climate or environment. When you come across a Brookesia micra chameleon for sale, the seller is either lying – and most likely selling you a small pygmy chameleon – or a poacher.
9) What does Brookesia micra look like?
They are mostly of a brown, sometimes also greenish color. Brookesia micra differ from other species of the genus Brookesia by having orange tails as adults. Their tail is also comparatively short in relation to their larger head, which is typical for all species of the genus Brookesia.
Brookesia micra, though, are characterized by the shortest relative tail size of this genus. As with any chameleons, their eyes move independently from each other, so that they can look in two directions simultaneously.
10) Can Brookesia micra change its color?
Yes, they quickly change color when stressed. In these situations, they display a broad pale stripe along the vertebrae and have contrasting darker sides. They also usually have a paler color, like a light gray, when they are sleeping.
In this way, they are well camouflaged in the monochrome colors of the night as well as in the brown and green leaves they spend their days in.
11) Can Brookesia micra use their tails for climbing?
You might have seen pictures of chameleons dangling from branches, safely grasping this branch with their tail. Brookesia micra cannot do that. They have non-prehensile tails, which means that their tail cannot grasp things. Instead, their tail can curl downward so that it can be used as a support to provide stability while walking, similar to an additional leg.
12) What kind of habitat does Brookesia micra live in?
When it comes to their living spaces, there is a distinction made between “tree chameleons” and “ground chameleons.” Brookesia micra are ground chameleons. They spend most of their time on the forest floor in leaf litters, the layer of both fresh and decomposing leaves above the topsoil.
Only when they go to sleep, they climb a little higher up in the vegetation – only a few inches, though, which for such a tiny animal is no small feat. Mostly, they roost on dead twigs that have fallen to the ground.
Aside from the forest floor, these chameleons also like stingy outcroppings, which is ground that consists of limestone. Since limestone is quite porous, the small Brookesia micra can use tiny holes to hide from predators.
13) What does this reptile eat?
Brookesia micra eats ants and other small insects and invertebrates which it finds on the forest floor. Like other chameleons, its sticky tongue is perfectly made to slurp up its prey.
14) Are there animals that prey on Brookesia micra?
Yes, there are quite a few predators that are a danger to tiny animals like these. Birds like the Malagasy coucal, a species of cuckoo, small mammals, frogs, and even other chameleons are known to eat Brookesia.
15) How do Brookesia micra defend itself against predators?
A tiny animal like this with no inherent defense mechanism like venom or poison would not stand much chance in a fight. This is why, during the day, they were observed to flee when the leaf litter they were in was disturbed.
At night, a defense mechanism called “dead leaf imitation” was observed. In these cases, the animals roll on their side and tuck their limbs in so that they look like a dead leaf.
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16) Is Brookesia micra nocturnal or diurnal?
These little chameleons are active during the day (diurnal) and sleep on low branches of bushes during the night.
There is not much known yet about the social structure of Brookesia micra, but research has shown that couples like to sleep comparatively close together – “close” meaning in a distance of one meter or less. Chameleons are not the cuddliest animals, it seems!
18) How does Brookesia reproduction work?
Like other chameleons, Brookesia also reproduce by laying eggs. The female digs a small hole and disposes of eggs three to six weeks after copulation. The young hatch about three months after the eggs have been laid.
19) How many species of Brookesia are there?
By now, there are 30 subspecies of Brookesia that are recognized as valid. Almost half of them are known from single localities, which shows that this species of chameleon prefers a small range with very specific conditions of climate and environment. The highest number of them can be found in northern Madagascar.
20) What does the name “Brookesia micra” mean?
Scientific names are usually complicated, which is why most people avoid them when talking about animals or plants. Unfortunately, Brookesia micra has no name aside from its scientific classification – maybe we just do not talk about it enough!
The species name Brookesia is in honor of the British naturalist Joshua Brookes who lived between 1761 and 1833. Micra comes from the Ancient Greek μῑκρός (mikros), meaning “small.” Even though all chameleons of the Brookesia genus are very small, at its discovery the Brookesia micra was believed to be the tiniest, hence the name.