The panther chameleon has long been believed by scientist to be a single species. But a new study has revealed that what we collectively call panther chameleon actually consists of 11 different species of color changing lizards.
Madagascar’s panther chameleons were always a curiosity in the scientific community as the species seemed to have an incredible and vast range of colors that they could switch between. Depending on where on the island they lived, supposed members of the same species could be yellow, red, orange, blue or green.
Typically, a species of chameleon only has the ability to change its physical appearance by using a few different hues of just a handful of colors. Despite what cartoons would have you believe, no chameleon can go from red to green to blue to yellow to brown.
Michel Milinkovitch, a professor at the University of Geneva in Switzerland, and his team of experts set out to investigate the mystery. They looked at 324 members of the species, taking photos and blood samples from each one of them in order to analyze color variation and molecular phylogeography.
They then returned to the lab to sequence and analyze the DNA of each lizard. The results were not what they expected. They found that each color range of supposed panther chameleon belonged to a different species of chameleon. In total there are 11 different species that make up the group known as panther chameleon.
These 11 species managed to dupe and confuse scientists for years, and made them believe that they’re only looking at one species. It didn’t even involve much deception on the animals’ part as the proof was always right in front of researchers, it’s just that no one ever bothered to look.
After having made the realization, scientists can now match a panther chameleon’s DNA sequence with its photogram, and identify without error what species they each belong to. They are basing their answers on the chameleons’ variations in color patterns.
Panther chameleons can be found in the eastern and northern parts of Madagascarm and Professor Milinkovitch says that “The genetic material indicated strong genetic structure among geographically-restricted lineages, revealing very low interbreeding among populations”.
Males in the group of 11 species can grow up to 50 cm (19.7 in.) long, however most only grow up to about 45 cm (17.7 in.). Females are half the size of males.
Panther Chameleons are know for having vibrant colors and color combinations, and for rapidly becoming an endangered species as their habitat is being destroyed.
Image Source: chameleonforums.com