First fossil chamaeleonid from Greece

Chameleo chameleo from Samos, Greece.. Benny Trapp

Chameleons  constitute a diverse clade of lizards with more than 200 species that are distributed in Africa, Madagascar and several Indian Ocean islands, southern Asia, Cyprus and southern parts of Mediterranean Europe. Cryptic diversity is common within the group. Several new species having been described in the current decade, mostly on the basis of molecular data. The size range of chamaeleonids is astonishing, with the larger members of the family surpassing 600 mm in total length, and the smallest species rank well among the tiniest known reptiles, the extant Brookesia micra, attaining only 29 mm and the extinct Jucaraseps grandipessimilar of similar size.

The Chamaeleonidae fossil record is very scarce and any new specimen is therefore considered important for our understanding of the evolutionary and biogeographic history of the group. In a new paper Georgalis et al. (2016) report on new specimens from the early Miocene of Aliveri (Evia Island) in Greece. These are the only fossils chamaeleons  from southeastern Europe. Although skull bones are tentatively attributed to the Czech species Chamaeleo cf. andrusovi, revealing a range extension for this taxon, the tooth-bearing bones are described as indeterminate chamaeleonids. The Aliveri fossils rank well among the oldest known reptiles from Greece, provide evidence for the dispersal routes of chameleons out of Africa towards the European continent and, additionally, imply strong affinities with coeval chamaeleonids from Central Europe.

Georgalis, G. L., Villa, A., & Delfino, M. (2016). First description of a fossil chamaeleonid from Greece and its relevance for the European biogeographic history of the group. The Science of Nature, 103(1-2), 1-12.

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