New chameleon has strange snout, odd distribution

Small lizard thrives in unexpected range in Tanzania

Kinyongia msuyae chameleon

NOSY  The Kinyongia msuyae chameleon has an unusual snout that may be important in courtship. 

T. Davenport/WCS

Males of a newly described chameleon species sport a distinctive double-tipped snout. The raised snout portion (called a rostral appendage) of Kinyongia msuyae splits and sticks out several millimeters at the front in a hint of horns.

The appendage’s function is unclear, says species codiscoverer Tim Davenport of the Wildlife Conservation Society, but it might have evolved under the pressures of wooing and winning females. The new chameleon comes from biologically rich Tanzania, where its range intrigues scientists who puzzle over how species end up where they do. The four known forest fragments where the chameleons live are separated, two on each side, by the dry, forbidding Makambako Gap, report Davenport and colleagues in the current Acta Herpetologica.

The divided habitats of the chameleon and several other animals, including the kipunji monkey (SN: 5/21/05, p. 324), suggest that the gap is not as isolating as scientists once thought.

Susan Milius is the life sciences writer, covering organismal biology and evolution, and has a special passion for plants, fungi and invertebrates. She studied biology and English literature.

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