Just because something is small doesn’t mean we can’t treat it as a big deal. In fact, there are many miniature creatures worthy of our attention.
You may be used to the tininess of various insects, but imagine chameleons, frogs, and lizards of the same size. Whether they can fit on the tip of a human finger or sit comfortably on a dime, these smallest reptiles in the world may surprise you with their unthinkable size.
First is the Brookesia micra, a leaf chameleon found only on the islet of Nosy Hara, located near Madagascar. Described for the first time in 2012, a male Brookesia micra has a snout-vent length (ie not including the tail) of 0.6 inches. That’s barely larger than a tablet of aspirin.
The species may represent an extreme case of island dwarfism, the miniaturization of animals that occurs over time based on the size of their habitats. This would not be surprising considering Nosy Hara is only one square mile.
When it comes to small animals, Paedophryne amauensis is the big winner. At 0.3 inches, the Papua New Guinea native is the world’s smallest known vertebrate. The species is so small that scientists had a hard time locating it. After pinpointing the source of their insect-like calls, researchers resorted to scooping up leaf litter into a plastic bag and sorting through it leaf by leaf until they found the tiny frog.
Paedophryne amauensis likely evolved into its minute size to be able to feed on tiny invertebrates, like mites, that larger predators ignored. Don’t underestimate them though — they can jump 30 times longer than their body size.
Virgin Islands Dwarf Gecko
The Virgin Islands dwarf gecko (Sphaerodactylus parthenopion) is the smallest known reptile and lizard species, along with the Jaragua dwarf gecko (Sphaerodactylus ariasae). Both species grow to a mass of just 14 grams.
The Virgin Islands dwarf gecko was discovered in 1964 on the Virgin Gorda, but it also has been spotted on Tortola and Moskito Island. It is believed to be susceptible to water loss, so it has developed techniques for surviving in its arid habitat. These include staying in humid microhabitats and decreasing activity at dry times of the day.
Mount d’Ambre Leaf Chameleon
A cousin of the Brookesia micrathe Mount d’Ambre leaf chameleon (Brookesia tuberculata), ranges in size between 0.55 and 0.75 inches. True to its name, it is found only in Amber Mountain National Park in Madagascar.
These reptiles were initially thought to be the same as the common dwarf chameleon, but a 1995 paper declared that Brookesia tuberculata is its own species because of differences in head crests and the form of organs. It is considered a vulnerable species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Speckled Cape Tortoise
Chersobius signatus — also known as the speckled Cape tortoise or the speckled padloper — is the smallest tortoise in the world. They measure between 2.5 and 4 inches — the smallest ones are roughly the length of a golf tee.
The speckled Cape tortoise is endemic to South Africa, and agricultural development of its habitat is the main reason for its IUCN Red List status as an endangered species.
Able to perch comfortably on a human finger, the oak toad (Anaxyrus quercicus) is the smallest toad species in North America. An individual can measure between 0.75 to 1.3 inches, which is smaller than a standard Gatorade bottle cap.
Aside from its size, the oak toad is identifiable because of a yellow or white stripe along its back that stands out against its darker skin. It can be found on the coast of the southeastern United States, often burrowed in the loose soil of flatwoods.
The Barbados threadsnake (Tetracheilostoma carlae) is a member of the Leptotyphlopidae family. According to the scientist who discovered the species in 2006, they rarely get wider than a strand of spaghetti. In length, they grow up to just 4 inches, making them the world’s smallest known snake.
We don’t know much about the specifics of this creature’s habitat except that it is being destroyed for residential and commercial development. This is why the IUCN Red List has labeled the Barbados threadsnake critically endangered.
Cuvier’s Dwarf Caiman
Cuvier’s dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus) is large compared to the other reptiles and amphibians on this list, but when compared to its relatives, it is another tiny creature. In fact, it is the smallest of the New World crocodilians, reaching between 4 and 5 feet. For comparison’s sake, some crocodiles can exceed 20 feet in length.
The caiman is considered a keystone species, meaning that its presence in an ecosystem is a vital component in keeping the ecosystem balanced. One reason is that it feeds on piranhas that otherwise could take over the habitat.