Meet Tanzania’s newest chameleon

Photo: Tim Davenport/WCS

Meet the newly discovered chameleon. Photo: Tim Davenport/WCS

Scientists have discovered a new species of chameleon in Tanzania.

The brown and green chameleon with scattered blue spots was found in four montane forest patches in the Udzungwa Mountains and Southern Highlands.

The species, Kinyongia msuyae, is named for Charles A. Msuya, a pioneer of Tanzanian herpetology — the branch of zoology studying reptiles and amphibians — who collected the first known specimen attributable to this species and has spent most of his life studying Tanzania’s reptiles and amphibians.

The discovery sheds more light on a region called the Makambako Gap, a supposed zoological barrier between the distinct faunas of the Southern Highlands and Eastern Arc Mountains.

“Along with our discoveries of the Kipunji, Matilda’s horned viper and other reptiles and frogs, this new chameleon really seals the deal as regards the boundary of the Eastern Arcs,” says Tim Davenport, Director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) Tanzania program and co-discoverer of the new chameleon.

“It is very clear now that the so-called Makambako Gap doesn’t exist zoologically, and that the Southern Highlands is every bit as biodiverse and endemic-rich as all other Eastern Arc Mountains. With its own unique fauna and flora the region thus warrants as much protection as we can possibly afford it.”

Tanzania’s Southern Highlands has emerged as a hotbed of new discoveries in recent years. In 2003, WCS discovered the kipunji – a species of primate that turned out to be an entirely new genus – a first for Africa since 1923. And in 2012, WCS found Matilda’s horned viper, a new variety of snake.

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