Researchers have determined that the panther chameleon, found in Madagascar isn’t in fact a lone species, instead being a group consisting of 11 different types.

Panther chameleons have always been a reptile that scientists and researchers wondered about. They had studied them closely enough to understand a good portion of their physical characteristics. However, there were still some missing links that made scientists and researchers alike wonder about their true identity. One of the specific questions researchers had was a very basic one, which asked what type of species it was, which might give the researchers some insight into the reasoning for their stripes.

That set the stage for research that was led by Michel Milinkovitch, who is a professor of genetics, evolution, and biophysics at the University of Geneva. The team of researchers led by Milinkovitch wanted to identify what type of species the panther chameleon was and identify more about it than was previously known. The findings were relatively shocking, given the fact that what the scientists learned is that there are 11 species of “panther chameleons.”

That means the stripes that people see on these chameleons are not actually exclusive to one breed in Madagascar where they are found, but rather a trait of several different species of chameleons. This lends itself to the notion that the panther stripes were an evolutionary trait that was fitted for the region, rather than a specific one that was born out of pure genetics. However, as the lead researcher pointed out – this is much more than just a matter of learning more about chameleons.

Milinkovitch pointed out that, “Given the charismatic nature of chameleons, besides a better understanding of the genetic basis of colour variation in chameleons, the study will help to continue its difficult enterprise: raising awareness for the staggering but fragile biodiversity hosted by Madagascar.” Milinkovitch’s research team went on to echo his sentiments, pointing to a very fragile ecosystem that needs a lot of help gaining more notoriety to ensure its preservation.

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The team went on to point out, “This case of hidden speciation confirms a major characteristic of Madagascar: it is amongst the most diverse places for life on Earth; a biodiversity hotspot.” Now, it’s a matter of learning more about Madagascar, and how many species might have been confused in this type of way. That being said though, with Madagascar being so diverse, it’s difficult to truly imagine the scope or sheer volume of research that would be required to dive into this hotbed of scientific mysteries.