New chameleon with blue spots found in Tanzania

A new species of chameleon with scattered blue spots has been found in the mountains of Tanzania, underscoring the richness of this biologically important region.

The brown and green chameleon lizard was discovered 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 who collected the first known specimen attributable to this species and has spent most of his life studying Tanzania’s reptiles and amphibians.

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Described by an international team in the journal Acta Herpetologica, the chameleon sheds light on a region called the Makambako Gap, a supposed zoological barrier between the distinct faunas of the Southern Highlands and Eastern Arc Mountains.

The presence of this species lends credence to those scientists, including the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Tim Davenport, who claim this barrier doesn’t exist. Rather, they say it demonstrates the close biological affinities between the Udzungwa and the Livingstone Mountains of the Southern Highlands.

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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.

“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,” Davenport, the director of WCS’s Tanzania Program and co-discoverer of the new chameleon, said in a statement. “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.”