You went, “Squee!”, didn’t you?
This is Brookesia micra, the smallest of the new species. There are four species described in this paper, shown below:
From top to bottom, they are Brookesia tristis, Brookesia confidens, Brookesia micra (which you saw above), and Brookesia desperata.
But as I was browsing through the paper, I hit this. And it stopped me cold.
It’s the description of the name of one of the species, Brookesia tristis.
Etymology.— The species epithet is an adjective derived from the Latin “tristis” meaning “doleful”, “sad”, “sorrowful”, and refers to the fact that the entire known range of this species (Montagne des Français) suffers from severe deforestation and habitat destruction despite recently being declared as a nature reserve.
I just found this so sad. The authors are so pessimistic about the chances for the survival of this marvelous little species, they have made the gloomy survival prospects of the formal scientific name of the species.
Another species, Brookesia desperata, has a similar section describing the rationale for its name:
Etymology.— The species epithet is an adjective derived from the Latin “desperatus” meaning “desperate”. Although the known range of the species is within a nature reserve established decades ago, its habitat is in truth barely protected and subject to numerous human-induced environmental problems resulting in severe habitat destruction , thus threatening the survival of the species.
I am glad that one species gets a more optimistic name:
Etymology.— The species epithet is an adjective derived from the Latin “confidens” meaning “confident”, “trusting”. The known range of the species is supposedly a well protected nature reserve with apparently limited habitat destruction. Furthermore, this area might benefit from natural protection by the tsingy limestone formations which are difficult to access, thus giving hope for the species’ survival.
A lot of the news coverage is focusing on the tiny size and the cuteness of these animals (io9, Gizmodo, Gizmodo Australia, MSNBC, Our Amazing Planet). Only one of the stories I have seen so far have mentioned the extreme pessimisn about the species’ continued survival. And – surprise! it’s The Daily Mail, which I mocked a while back for their headline hogwash. Their story says:
The new additions to the chameleon species are only found in an area just a few square miles in size.
Experts believe they may be especially sensitive to habitat destruction.
A big part of the discussion section of this paper is about “microendemism” This is the fancy way of saying that these chameleon species, and their relatives in this genus, all appear to have very small, restricted ranges. Presumably, they are just not able to disperse from location to location, so even minor geographic barriers becomes insurmountable to these creatures.
I’m actually terribly worried now that someone will look at these, see only the cuteness, and try to go collect them for the pet trade. That could be devastating to this species.
I wish more articles that tell people about these marvelous little animals would use the opportunity to tell people that if we’re not careful, we could lose them before we even get to know them.
Glaw F, Köhler J, Townsend T, & Vences M (2012). Rivaling the world's smallest reptiles: discovery of miniaturized and microendemic new species of leaf chameleons (Brookesia) from Northern Madagascar PLoS ONE, 7 (2) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0031314
Additional: The United Academics blog, seemingly working from press releases, does mention the conservation angle. This makes me suspect that the conservation aspect of the story is there is the press release, but it being overlooked to sell the cute. The BBC and New Scientist, to their credit, also mention the tiny ranges as a problem for these species. Wired mentions the small ranges but not the conservation issue.
More additional: Hm. The Daily Mail got the conservation right, but may have broken an embargo to do it.
Even more additional: Some discussion about whether captive breeding could be a good thing for these species on Google+.