An international team of researchers led by the University of Copenhagen has recently named eight new species of day gecko in Madagascar. According to the study authors, all of the geckos are less than three inches in length – no longer than a pointer finger.
Over the last several decades, the researchers had studied the small geckos from the subgenus Domerguella and thought five separate species existed. However, DNA analysis has revealed there might be as many as 17 new species.
Madagascar is well known for its species diversity and endemism; over 150 new reptile species have been described in the last 30 years. Nevertheless, the researchers were surprised at the number of different species they had been studying without realizing it.
“These results highlight how important it is that we continue to collect samples across Madagascar, even of species we think we understand. There is still very much more to discover,” said Dr. Frank Glaw, Curator of Herpetology at the Zoologische Staatssammlung München in Munich, Germany.
Many of the recently described species in Madagascar have been small. Dr. Mark D. Scherz, the last author of the study, explained that smaller animals have more restricted movement.
“Domerguella are tiny, at just five to seven centimetres (or roughly two inches) from the nose to the tip of the tail. We think that their small size may play a role in the way they speciate. Because small animals are generally less able to move from one area to another, and are more likely to get isolated by barriers like rivers cropping up between populations. This could explain why we have seen these kinds of patterns in the tiny frogs, chameleons, and now also geckos that we have been studying in Madagascar,” said Dr. Scherz.
Unfortunately, like many species found in Madagascar, these tiny lizards are threatened with extinction. Dr. Fanomezana Ratsoavina, manager of the Unit for Zoology and Animal Biodiversity at the University of Antananarivo in Madagascar, elaborated on the status of the newly discovered geckos.
“The five species we knew before were mostly thought to be unthreatened, but the eight new species are all either probably endangered or critically endangered. This shows how important it is to continue to work to discover, describe, and assess the conservation status of the wildlife of Madagascar.”
The paper is published in the journal Zootaxa.