There are more than a few creatures out there who are so small they’re barely noticed. Some of them are miniature versions of larger animals, and others are smaller than a dime. Here’s ten of the tiniest animals in the world.
10. Bumblebee Bat
The bumblebee bat (technically known as the Kitti’s hog-nose bat) may in fact be the smallest mammal in the world. It was only discovered in 1974, but fanaticism over its size has led to such a rapid population decline that it is now being protected. The little bat lives in Burma and Thailand, where its population is as small as the animal itself (in fact, their habitat in Thailand is confined to a single tiny province and they’re currently at risk of extinction).
Despite their size, they differ from other species in that they tend to roost in very small numbers—between 15 and 100, as opposed to the classic swarms we’re used to.
9. Madame Berthe’s Mouse Lemur
Madame Berthe’s mouse lemur is a species of mouse lemur in Madagascar, and the smallest known primate in the world. Adults are only about 5 inches long. They weren’t discovered until 1992, and are an endangered species. Currently, they only live in one specific section of rapidly declining forest on the island.
Like many examples of island dwarfism (and, in particular, Madagascar’s plethora of strange critters) they seem to be specialist animals, requiring a very specific type of habitat that is suitable for their survival.
8. Paedophryne Amauensis
The discovery of Paedophryne amauensis was just announced this year in Papua New Guinea—though some accounts say it was discovered in 3 years earlier, in 2009) and is not only the smallest frog but also the smallest known vertebrate in the world. On average it grows to just less than 8 mm, which, for comparison, is smaller than an M&M.
These tiny amphibians are unique from many other frog species, as their young are born not as tadpoles but as miniature adults (just imagine how small they are). They live on the forest floor among organic debris and vegetation, and their call is a barely audible peep, at frequencies nearly too high for the human ear to catch.
7. Brookesia Micra
Also discovered this year, Brookesia micra is a tiny chameleon species that lives in Madagascar. Its maximum recorded length is 16mm, or 5/8 of an inch. Brookesia micra is one of four newly discovered species of mini-chameleons on Madagascar. It’s so small that we don’t even know what it eats, because it’s smaller than most of the bugs that make up the diet of its larger relatives.
The survival of this species is of particular concern, because their habitat is under threat of over-logging. Like their relatives in Madagascar, their evolution in such a specialized micro-ecosystem makes them very vulnerable to population decline as a result of deforestation. Their current numbers are only hopeful estimates, and are expected to drop considerably in areas not protected as wildlife refuges.
6. Bee Hummingbird
The bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) is actually the size of a bee. It’s the smallest bird in the world. It was once relatively common throughout the Caribbean, but deforestation and other destruction of habitat have made it very rare, and it’s now considered a near-threatened species. These birds, like their relatives, supplement a primary diet of nectar with the occasional insect (provided that it’s small enough of course), and are so tiny that they construct their nest out of bits of moss and spider webs. Their eggs are the size of peas, and mature adults are colored quite brilliantly.
5. Rusty-Spotted Cat
This cat is the smallest of all the “big cats”, only about the size of a housecat. It’s protected as a vulnerable species by IUCN as of 2002 because of its rapidly-declining population size. Rusty-spotted cats are only found in India and Sri Lanka, making them a very interesting subject of study. It’s actually speculated that these cats may have a place in the ancestry of today’s domestic cats (they are of similar size to the African and Asiatic wildcats, the first cats recorded to be domesticated).
Like domestic cats, rusty-spotted cats are ferociously loyal and affectionate to their keepers when raised in captivity. Their largest populations currently reside in wildlife reserves where they can be monitored and protected.
4. Barbados Threadsnake
The Barbados threadsnake is native to the Lesser Antilles, and is only about the size of a quarter when coiled up. At only about 10 cm long, it’s officially the smallest species of snake known to exist. They’re actually so small that they don’t have any eyes, making them completely blind.
The size of these tiny snakes precludes them from laying a large number of eggs as most snakes do; instead, they’ve been observed laying just one egg per season. Blair Hedges, a Penn State biologist credited with the snakes’ discovery, theorizes that this single egg is an evolutionary mechanism with a very specific purpose: “If a tiny snake were to have two offspring, each egg could occupy only half the space that is devoted to reproduction within its body. But then each of the two hatchlings would be half the normal size, perhaps too small to function as a snake or in the environment. The fact that tiny snakes produce only one massive egg — relative to the size of the mother — suggests that natural selection is trying to keep the size of hatchlings above a critical limit in order to survive.”
3. Sphaerodactylus Ariasae
The S. ariasae is a very small species of gecko–speculated to be the smallest lizard in the world–that only grows to 16 mm. It lives in the Caribbean and is only about the size of a US dime. Despite making its home in one of the most heavily-studied ecosystems on Earth, S. ariasae managed to avoid discovery until as recently as 2001.
Unfortunately, while it’s a rich habitat for wildlife, the Caribbean is also under siege by logging, exploding tourism, and further deforestation; so a careful eye is being kept on these tiny wonders to preserve their population, which is barely known as it is.
2. Hippocampus Denise
H. denise is the smallest seahorse known to exist. It only grows to be about 16 mm. It is so small that scientists had previously thought it to be juvenile. Little is known about the tiny seahorses but it is known that they prefer the coral reefs of the Pacific and can probably evade predators with ease. They’re naturally solitary (though they pair up for a brief time during mating) but have been observed all over, from Indonesia to Japan to Australia. Little is known about their diet and behavior, and their size—as well as their species protection status—makes them difficult to study.
1. Pygmy Hippopotamus
Pygmy hippos only grow to 1/10 the weight of their larger cousins. They live in the Upper Guinea forest in Africa, where they are protected as an endangered species. They’re also hilariously tiny.
These animals are as adorable as they are elusive. The pygmy hippo is not only very, very rare, but also nocturnal by nature. As such, they’re understandably hard to gather information on, and even harder to study in controlled environments. A small number of them have ended up in zoos and exhibits, where they are under scrutiny.
Africa’s booming timber industry, as well as the unfortunate tragedy of war, has led to severe reduction in their habitat. In fact, the pygmy hippo is actually one of two subspecies, the other of which was found in Nigeria and recently declared officially extinct.