A chameleon that had not been seen in over a century has been rediscovered in the forests of Madagascar. Voeltzkow’s chameleon was last witnessed back in 1913 and some zoologists even questioned whether or not the species ever existed.
They did in fact exist and are still around today. According to a new paper, zoologist Frank Glaw and his colleagues reported that they rediscovered the species and studied numerous of them while they were on an expedition in the northwestern part of Madagascar back in 2018. (Their paper can be read in full here.)
While male Voeltzkow’s chameleons are bright green, the females are much more colorful with bright stripes of purple, black, white, red, orange, and green. Their colorful patterns are displayed during pregnancy, when they’re stressed, or when they see a male.
So, how could something so colorful hide in the forests for over a century without being noticed? According to Glaw and his colleagues, they may have very short lives which would dramatically limit the possibility of anyone seeing them. In fact, another chameleon species called F. labordi (and the closest relative of Voeltzkow’s chameleons) only lives 4 or 5 months during the very wet and rainy months between November and March. The researchers’ paper read in part, “The assumed short life might also partly explain why this splendid species got ‘lost’ for many decades, since most roads in its habitat are not accessible in the wet season.”
Voeltzkow’s chameleon is just one of several species on the Lazarus taxa list which are species that were presumed extinct but have been rediscovered. One of the most well-known and talked about on the list is the coelacanth which is a fish that was believed to have became extinct during the same time as the dinosaurs but it was rediscovered back in 1938 when one ended up in a fishing net off of Africa’s east coast.
Several other species that were presumed extinct have been rediscovered in recent months. The New Guinea singing dog that was thought to be extinct in the wild for the last 50 years was rediscovered in Indonesia; the woolly flying squirrel that was presumed extinct for the past 70 years was found again in India; and a blue bee (called the Blue Calamintha bee) that is so rare it was believed to be extinct in Florida until a researcher saw one.
According to Global Wildlife Conservation, there may be as many as 1,200 species hiding on our planet that have been classified as being extinct. Don Church, who is the president of Global Wildlife Conservation, said in a statement, “The Voeltzkow’s chameleon adds color and beauty to the planet, and reminds us that even when all seems lost, a great adventure can rekindle hope even for species we haven’t seen since Woodrow Wilson was president.” Pictures of Voeltzkow’s chameleon can be seen here.