A recently published article describes a new chameleon found in the “Google Forest” in Mozambique.
The Austral late autumn is not the best time to hunt for a new species of chameleon, but defying all odds, Prof. Bill Branch did. Prof. Branch undertook the chameleon chase in May 2009. He was motivated by photographs of unusual chameleons taken during earlier surveys by Royal Botanic Gardens Kew and the Mulanje Mountain Conservation Trust (MMCT) in the forests of Mount Mabu in central Mozambique.
The forest is known as the “Google Forest” because Dr. Julian Bayliss of the MMCT originally identified it as an area of interest using imagery from Google Earth.
Because chameleons are cryptic by day, night-time is the easiest time to find them because they stand out under a strong spotlight. Prof. Branch explained their expedition saying “four exhausting nights chasing shadows by spotlight in the mid-altitude temperate forest eventually uncovered four individuals which didn’t look like any known species”.
The species was confirmed by Krystal Tolley of the South African National Biodiversity Institute through genetic analysis of DNA samples taken by Branch. Dr. Tolley said “The DNA patterns revealed that the Mount Mabu chameleon is distinctive enough to be considered a new species, and is related to the Mount Mulanje chameleon, from southern Malawi.” This new chameleon is unusual because it is only the second species known in the genus Nadzikambia. It is only found on the forested slopes of Mount Mabu suggesting it is extremely isolated, and is confined to one small patch of forest habitat.
The chameleon is named in honour of Dr. Julian Bayliss, the organiser of a number of expeditions to Mount Mabu which have ultimately led to the discovery of this new chameleon. “It’s thrilling to have a new species named after you.” said Bayliss, “You feel honoured for the recognition, but also humbled by the fact that there is so much still unknown about our own planet, that we can still be finding new species.”