Shrunken Life: Discourses of the Cryptic and the Miniature in Madagascar
Keywords:extinction, cryptic species, miniature species, climate change, island rule, DNA barcoding, Madagascar
As scientists scour remnant habitats and “unmask” cryptic species with DNA barcoding, a boom of species discovery has enchanted the world. In Madagascar, recent discoveries of previously unknown miniature frogs, chameleons, and lemurs often photographed on human fingers or cradled in hands, have captured the public imagination. In this imagery of scale, the giant finger conveys the outsized impact of humanity on Earth, or points to what Susan Stewart (1996, p. 74) calls “a physical world of disorder and disproportion.” Although the phenomenon of insular gigantism and dwarfism has shaped scientific discourses of evolution and extinction since the nineteenth century, recent reportage on “new” miniature and cryptic species reflects a sensibility beyond wistful nostalgia for creatures past. Species miniaturism evolves out of habitat loss, and living minifauna encapsulate the contraction of existential time, all the more pronounced by the effects of climate change. Photographs of cryptic minifauna therefore compel us to reflect on the whole of our losses, while they fuel the impulse to restock the “library of life” at micro-scale.
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