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Chameleons belong to a diverse family. The longest chameleon can grow to approximately two feet in length while the smallest chameleon can fit on the tip of your thumb. Chameleons range in color from brown and green hues to white and bright blues, greens, yellows, and reds. Two recent discoveries have expanded the family’s diversity.
100 million years ago, a small lizard creature was crawling through the tropics of present-day Myanmar when it had the misfortune of getting trapped in the resin of a coniferous tree. This resin, which fossilized into amber, preserved the dime-sized specimen along with 10 other specimens of lizards. That means these specimens became fossilized during the Dinosaur Age.
These specimens were made available for study by a private collector at the American Museum of Natural History. A team led by Edward Stanley, a University of Florida postdoctoral student in herpetology at the Florida Museum of Natural history, used 3D scanning techniques to examine the specimens. One specimen had chameleon-like characteristics that lead researchers to believe it is a chameleon; for example, the specimen has the chameleon’s projectile tongue but had not yet developed the body shape and toes we currently associate with chameleons.
These specimens will be studied more closely and will be named in the future. If this specimen is a chameleon, it will be approximately 78 million years older than the previously thought oldest chameleon making it the oldest chameleon on records.
Stay tuned for more developments on this!
In the same year scientists discovered what is possibly the oldest species of chameleon, they also discovered a new species of chameleon in Tanzania. The new species is named Kinyongia msuyae, in honor of Tanzania herpetology pioneer Charles A. Msuyae. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, “The brown and green chameleon with scattered blue spots was found in four montane forest patches in the Udzungwa Mountains and Southern Highlands.”
While discovering new species is always exciting, this discovery also provides insight into the biodiversity of the Makambako Gao, which is a disputed “zoological barrier” between regions of the Southern Highlands and Eastern Arc Mountains. The presence of this chameleon lends credence to the argument that this barrier does not exist and that there is a close relationship between the biodiversity of the neighboring regions.
What are your thoughts on these discoveries?