A Moment of Science

Short-Lived Chameleons

Tortoises can live beyond 100 years, and whales and elephants also have long lives. What's the shortest-lived tetrapod (four-limbed creature with a backbone)?

Ambilobe Panther Chameleon

Photo: wgdavis (flickr)

Ambilobe Panther Chameleon get it's name from Madagascar, where it is thought to have originated from.

Some giant tortoises can live well beyond 100 years, and whales and elephants also have long lives. But what’s the shortest-lived tetrapod (four-limbed creature with a backbone)?

Scientists at Oklahoma State University recently discovered a chameleon that lives for only about five months before it breeds and then dies.  It’s called the Labord’s chameleon, and it lives in southwest Madagascar. And the truly weird part of this story is that the chameleons gestate for about eight or nine months in their eggs before hatching. So over their entire life span, the chameleons spend more than half their time gestating, and live only a short time after they’ve hatched.

Once they’ve hatched, the chameleons live fast. They reach sexual maturity within two months and then mate. But a few months later, by the beginning of February, they already start to slow down and age rapidly. Some even lose their grip and fall out of trees.

It’s not clear why their lifespans are so short. But it could be driven by the extreme variability in weather on Madagascar.

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