Deep in the forests of India, scientists have discovered a colorful new gecko. The species has been named Eublepharis pictus, also known as the Painted Leopard Gecko.
In 2017, researchers Zeeshan A. Mirza of the National Centre for Biological Sciences in Bangalore and C. Gnaneswar of the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust in Chennai found a gecko in a water tank during a field survey. At the time, the creature was identified as the East Indian Leopard Gecko species (Eublepharis hardwickii).
The researchers conducted a phylogenetic study to look for the evolutionary history within the leopard gecko species. The team made morphological comparisons using molecular data from specimens across natural history museums. The results revealed that the gecko may represent a distinct new species.
“These lizards have conserved morphologies and most species are quite similar in general appearance,” explained Mirza. “With a few characters based on the number of specimens examined, we described the species and named it the Painted Leopard Gecko – in Latin, Eublepharis pictus, for its colouration.”
With this new addition, the gecko genus Eublepharis now contains 7 species. Two of them – E. pictus and E. satpuraensis – were described by Mirza.
The new species lives in dry evergreen forests mixed with scrub and meadows. The gecko is nocturnal, and forages along trails in the forest after dusk. It licks surfaces to look for food as it moves, which suggests it might use its tongue as a sensory organ.
Although the Painted Leopard Gecko is newly discovered, the researchers are already concerned about its conservation. “The species is collected for the pet trade and even now may be smuggled illegally,” said the researchers. For this reason, they have refrained from identifying the exact locations where it may be found.
To protect the gecko, the authors suggest listing it as Near Threatened based on IUCN conservation criteria, until more is known about the size of its populations.
Further research may also encourage better protection of biodiversity in the area. “The Eastern Ghats are severely under-surveyed, and dedicated efforts will help recognize it as a biodiversity hotspot,” concluded the study authors.
This study is published in the open-access scientific journal Evolutionary Systematics.