Researchers have discovered 11 new chameleon species in Madagascar, casually hiding in plain sight. What makes these lizards special is that their camouflage was so effective that biologists thought initially they were dealing with only one species – the panther chameleon.
The scientists had to sequence the DNA of the lizards, back in their laboratory, before finally realizing that what they were actually analyzing 11 different chameleon species instead of a single one.
The biologists took samples from about 324 specimens, whom they all believed to be part of the panther chameleon group. They found it a bit unusual that the lizard had such diverse color patterns, and thought the secret to its camouflage will be revealed after taking a look at the blood samples. But after putting those under the microscope – Surprise! – they noticed the samples didn’t all belong to the same species.
Now, the scientific community has to rethink everything it though it knew about the panther chameleon, also known as Furcifer pardalis. Panther chameleons (in plural, now) are unique lizards than can only be found in Madagascar. They are famous for their wide range of colors, ranging from green and yellow to bright red and blue – a rather unusual combination compared to chameleons encountered elsewhere.
The colors of the camouflage seem to be very strongly influenced by the environment. Moreover, species attached to a specific geographical area appear to retain their genetic features, as the scientists noticed during their study. The genetic material of reach lizard was clearly related to its geographical restrictions, and it didn’t look like there was much cross breeding among different populations.
Madagascar’s biodiversity continues to amaze scientists, and hosting at least 11 different chameleon species across a relatively small area is truly remarkable. In the future, however, biologists will no longer need to perform lab tests to identify which species each specimen belongs to. The study showed that there is a subtle connection between the dominant color in the lizards’ skin patterns and their genetic lineage.
The genetic analyses were done at the University of Geneva by Professor by Michel Milinkovitch, and the results of the study were recently published in the journal Molecular Ecology.
Image Source: screameleons