But Lenin defended her story.
"My family lives on a private farm with no access to outsiders," Lenin told Live Science in an email. "None of the locals will touch chameleons, because they think they are venomous. Also, my husband is a well-known herpetologist and has seen his fair share of pranks, [too many] to be fooled by one."
If Lenin's story is legit, then it's likely that the intense sunlight and dry heat hastened the mummification of the chameleon, said Alan Resetar, manager of the Amphibian and Reptile Collections at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, who was not involved with the chameleon finding.
"The dry wind, too, would desiccate — would pull the moisture out of the animal fairly quickly," Resetar told Live Science.
During her examination of the mummy, Lenin noticed two small holes in its skin, she said. These were likely caused by ants that ate the chameleon's organs, probably speeding up the mummification process, according to National Geographic.
RELATED: World's Oldest Plant-Like Fossils Discovered in India
The moment an organism dies, the bacteria that live in the creature's gut turn against it, accelerating decay by gulping down its soft tissues. That's why some ancient cultures eviscerated dead people (removed their organs) so that the individuals could more easily be mummified, Live Science reported previously.
The ants might have similarly eviscerated the chameleon, but only a necropsy (an animal autopsy) or a medical-imaging scan could tell for sure, Resetar said.
Still, animals and humans that retain their organs can be mummified if it's hot and dry enough. In 2003, an African crowned bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus occipitalis) found in Niger near a dried-out pond was naturally mummified with all its organs intact, Resetar said.
Moreover, he recalled an odd experience with mummies while he was working for a trucking company one summer during college. One day, Resetar was asked to check on a truck in the back lot that had been sitting there for months, if not years, he said.
"I opened it up, and there was a litter of mummified kittens inside the truck," Resetar said. "The mother must have escaped or been away when the truck door was closed, trapping the kittens."
RELATED: DNA Reveals How Domestic Cats Conquered the World
The intense heat inside the truck's cab — "it was like a furnace," Resetar said — likely played a role in the kittens' deaths, and facilitated their mummification, he said.
"It was sad," Resetar said. "The thought still stays with me, and that was 40 years ago."
While finding naturally mummified animals is not an everyday occurrence, experiencing high temperatures is becoming more common as climate change heats up parts of the world. Higher-than-usual temperatures can kill animals, especially those that are ectotherms, or cold-blooded, according to National Geographic.
"A lot of these reptiles who live in the desert or tropics, they're in areas that are already almost as hot as they [the animals] can survive, so even a small increase in temperature beyond that could push them into pretty severe heat stress," Jeanine Refsnider, a herpetologist at the University of Toledo in Ohio, told National Geographic.
Original article on Live Science.
Gallery of Egypt's Mysterious Animal Mummies
Photos: Dog Mummies and their Pesky Parasites
Photos: The Amazing Mummies of Peru and Egypt