Scientists working on the island of Madagascar report the discovery of 11 new species of chameleon.
Chameleons are most famous for their color-changing ability, which makes them better at hiding from predators. However it appears that a particular species of chameleon managed to hide a significant secret from scientists, until now. The panther chameleon, which displays intra-specific color variations, has now been found to be made up of 11 distinct species.
Impressive biodiversity of Madagascar under threat
The island of Madagascar is situated just off the coast of Mozambique, and its biodiversity has long been a marvel for scientists. Unfortunately deforestation over the course of the last few decades means that its biodiversity has come under increasing attack from outside forces.
Now a team of scientists has discovered that the local chameleon population is even more diverse than previously thought. The study was led by Michel Milinkovitch, professor of genetics, evolution, and biophysics at the University of Geneva (UNIGE), in conjunction with a team of colleagues in Madagascar.
Their analysis showed that the panther chameleon is in fact made up of eleven different species, rather than just one. Blood samples were collected from 324 individual chameleons during two expeditions from the east coast to the west coast of the island. Each individual was documented by a color photograph.
New chameleon species identifiable due to classification key
After the expedition the photographs were analyzed, revealing that the color patterns could be used to predict the genetic lineage of individual animals. As a result, the separate geographical populations may need to be considered as distinct species. Next the team made a classification key which allowed them to identify the species of an individual chameleon using only the naked eye.
“Given the charismatic nature of chameleons, besides a better understanding of the genetic basis of colour variation in chameleons, the study will help to continue its difficult enterprise: raising awareness for the staggering but fragile biodiversity hosted by Madagascar,” Milinkovitch wrote.
A group of scientists recently drew up a list of the 10 strangest new species that were discovered in 2014, in order to highlight the incredible biodiversity of Earth and inspire us to save it. This latest study should help towards the same end.
Results of the study were published in the journal Molecular Ecology.