The panther chameleon changes color to display itself. When scientists did a genetic work up on it, they found out that behind its display it was hiding 10 extra species. Check out a flow chart that can give you a hint as to which panther chameleon you’re looking at.

Biologists at the University of Geneva and the University of Antananarivo went looking for the genetics reasons behind the spectacular shifting colors of the panther chameleon. These chameleons are found all over Madagascar, and nowhere else. The wilderness areas in Madagascar are shrinking, but still extensive, and it took multiple trips for the researchers to collect over three hundred samples of panther chameleon blood.

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What they found, when they analyzed the blood, was that they’d greatly overestimated the panther chameleon’s range, and greatly underestimated the number of species. What they’d thought was a single species of chameleon living all over the island was actually 11 different species, all inhabiting different habitats on the island, doing little-to-no mating outside their community.

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The fact that we haven’t caught on to the difference until now can be chalked up to both extremely similar physical structure of all the species, and the chameleon’s famously shifting color displays. Fortunately, the scientists had taken pictures of all the chameleons they’d taken blood droplets from. By analyzing the slight differences in patterns and colors, the researchers came up with a rough guide to let people in the field know which species of chameleon they’re staring at. You can see one of the guides, in flow chart form, above.

Images:© Michel Milinkovitch

[Source: Molecular Ecology]

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