Google Earth spurs discovery of a ‘new’ chameleon species

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Google Earth has spurred the discovery of another new species. In this case, the creature is a pygmy , one of four previously unknown Rhampholeon species described from the remote ‘sky islands’ in . The Mount Mabu pygmy (Rhampholeon maspictus) was discovered after Google Earth images of a tract of forest led Julian Bayliss, a consultant for Fauna & Flora International, to launch a scientific expedition to the region.

At around 7-8 cm long, the Mount Mabu pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon maspictus) is a relatively large species. Its name comes from the Latin for ‘painted man’, reflecting the striking green, blue and yellow coloration of breeding males. Image credit: William R. Branch, caption courtesy of Fauna & Flora International

The Mount Mabu pygmy chameleon is described along with three other species — the Chiperone pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon nebulauctor), the Mount Namuli pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon tilburyi), and the Mount Inago pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon bruessoworum) — in a recent issue of the journal Zootaxa. The species were distinguished using DNA analysis.

The Mount Namuli pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon tilburyi) is named after chameleon expert Colin Tilbury. Image credit: William R. Branch, caption courtesy of Fauna & Flora International

The Mount Inago pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon bruessoworum) attains 5-6 cm in length. It is named after brothers Carl and Darren Bruessow to honor their contributions to the protection of wildlife in southern Malawi. Image credit: Julian Bayliss, caption courtesy of Fauna & Flora International
The Chiperone pygmy chameleon (Rhampholeon nebulauctor) reaches 4-6 cm. Its name comes from the Latin for ‘cloudmaker’, alluding to the cold drizzle that falls over the highlands of southern Malawi as moist air from the Indian Ocean is forced to rise over Mt. Chiperone. Image credit: Julian Bayliss, caption courtesy of Fauna & Flora International

The chameleons are an indication of the region’s biological richness, which has been poorly documented until now, according to Bayliss.

“The biodiversity of the high altitude mountains of northern Mozambique is only starting to be explored and we are finding many new species from most taxonomic groups,” he said in a statement. “This is just the start, and we expect many more new discoveries in the future.”

Mount Chiperone, Mount Inago, Mount Mabu and Mount Namuli are part of the Afromontane Archipelago, a series of mountain chains and isolated mountains that runs the from to .

“Cloaked in forest, grassland and heathland habitats, this mountain archipelago is known to harbor rich biological diversity along its length – so much so that almost every new biodiversity survey seems to reveal new species,” explained a release from Fauna & Flora International, which went on to add that it is working to establish a reserve in the area to protect forests from encroachment, subsistence agriculture, and hunting.

Over the years, researchers using Google Earth have made a variety of discoveries, ranging from identifying previously unknown habitats like a reef off to surveying fish catches in the Middle East.

This article was first published by Mongabay.com

Supertrooper

Founder and Executive Editor

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Susan Frudd

Brilliant…I love their camouflage. what a fantastic discovery.

Andy Maidlow

Splendid !