This study has baffled scientists by identifying 11 new species of panther chameleons on the island of Madagascar.
Chameleons have long fascinated scientists with their vibrant and ever-changing color. According to Nature World News, a recent genetic analysis of chameleons in Madagascar has revealed that one species, the panther chameleon, is actually divided into 11 distinct species. The study has revealed that scientists know less about the color-changing lizards than they once thought, and that they have their work cut out for them in describing the new species.
The study was published in the journal Molecular Biology this week, and aimed to explain why different populations of panther chameleons across Madagascar exhibited such widely varying colors and patterns. Chameleons possess the capability to change color as a means of communicating with each other, as well as in response to changes in the environment. A single chameleon species typically only exhibits a few colors at once; some tend to be green and blue, while others appear more red or orange.
The researchers who conducted the study set out to explain why the panther chameleon exhibited such a wider range of colors than other related species. To solve the riddle, they collected blood samples and corresponding photos of 324 panther chameleons in the forests and jungles of Madagascar. They hoped the DNA would explain how these different colors emerged from an original population of panther chameleons.
The DNA told a much different story than the researchers expected to hear, however. Rather than adapting their color to better survive in different environments, the panther chameleons examined in the study were actually 11 genetically distinct species. The differences in the genes were too great for the lizard species to have come from one pioneering population.
Madagascar is home to some of the richest biodiversity on the planet, and it is constantly under threat from logging and development. In order to protect the panther chameleons and the thousands of other species sharing the island nation, studies like this must continue to be conducted to construct detailed conservation plans.