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Researchers Identify First Females Of Elusive Madagascan Species

Jan 31, 2016 03:25 PM EST
Calumma vatosoa
Micro-CT scans helped scientists identify the first female of a chameleon species known as Calumma vatosoa.
(Photo : David Proetzel)

A single male in a chameleon species known as Calumma vatosoa from Northeast Madagascar is a bachelor no more. German researchers have described the first females of this rather elusive species in a new study. 

The male Calumma vatosoa was originally found in 2001, but the identity of females of this species has been unclear until now. Ph.D. student David Proetzel of the herpetology section of the Zoologische Staatssammlung Munchen (ZSM), Germany, analyzed specimens of female chameleons in the collection of the Senckenberg Museum, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, that resembled Calumma vatosoa. 

Since a DNA extraction analysis was not an option, researchers confirmed the museum specimens belonged to Calumma vatosoa using X-ray micro-computed tomography scans to study and compare the internal morphology of organisms in a non-invasive way, according to a news release

"With the help of Micro-CT you can investigate even the skeleton of very valuable samples like holotypes without destroying them," Proetzel explained in the release. "In chameleons the morphology of the skeleton, especially the skull, contains important characteristics that distinguish different species." 

Chameleons are among some of the most popular animals in Madagascar and have been quite intensively studied in the past. While many new species are still being discovered, several are only known by a single or few specimens, researchers say.

"Here, the comparison of the skulls of the male and the female showed that they belong to the same chameleon species. With the help of modern technology we could describe females of Calumma vatosoafor the first time, and add another distribution locality of this species," Proetzel added.  

However, many chameleon species suffer from deforestation in Madagascar. Researchers hope their findings, recently published in the journal Zoosystematics and Evolutionwill increase awareness and protection of the country's rich biodiversity. 

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