Leaf-tailed geckos are well-known masters of disguise. Some species have skin flaps around their entire bodies and heads, along with flattened tails, and spend their days resting head-down on tree trunks with these skin flaps spread out, blending seamlessly into their surroundings.
At night, they awaken to search for invertebrate prey along the fine branches of the understory. Now, a team of researchers led by the Bavarian State Collection for Zoology (ZSM) has discovered and named a new leaf-tailed gecko species from the north of Madagascar.
The experts collected extensive data on the genetics, morphology, and distribution of this new species – which they called Uroplatus garamaso – and undertook several expeditions to northern Madagascar to gather more information about this gecko.
“When we first discovered this species in 2000, we already suspected it might be new to science,” said lead author Frank Glaw, a curator of herpetology at ZSM. “But it has taken us many years to amass enough information to confidently describe it as a new species.”
A major challenge in understanding the characteristics of this species was that Uroplatus garamaso is remarkably similar to another species of leaf-tailed gecko, Uroplatus henkeli, and has often been confused with it in the past.
“This is quite common for reptiles from Madagascar,” said co-author Jörn Köhler, a senior curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt. “There are a lot of these so-called ‘cryptic species,’ which are waiting for taxonomic treatment.”
However, through careful analysis, the scientists succeeded in finding some features that differentiate the two leaf-tailed gecko species.
“The real key was the discovery that the tip of the tongue is blackish in U. henkeli, whereas it is pink in U. garamaso,” reported co-author Philip-Sebastian Gehring, a biologist at the University of Bielefeld in Germany. Moreover, at a length of 20 cm, the new species is also slightly smaller than U. henkeli, and has a narrower tail.
This species is the latest in a series of new Uroplatus geckos from Madagascar scientists discovered and described over the past few years.
“We are close to completing the taxonomic inventory of the genus, but this is just the start of our understanding of their evolution and ecology,” concluded co-author Mark Scherz, a curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. “The mouth color, which has been so useful to identify different species, has a totally unknown function. There is a lot we still do not know about these geckos, from their broader evolutionary relationships to their behavior.”
The study is published in the journal Salamandra.
Geckos are small to medium-sized reptiles that belong to the family Gekkonidae in the order Squamata. There are over 1,500 species, making them one of the most diverse groups of lizards.
Geckos play a vital role in ecosystems as both predators and prey. They also help control insect populations.
Due to their unique appearance and behavior, many gecko species, like the leopard gecko and crested gecko, are popular pets.
They have unique toe pads that allow them to adhere to a wide variety of surfaces, from smooth glass to rough walls.
Geckos don’t have eyelids. Instead, they have a transparent membrane over their eyes which they clean using their tongue
Geckos have a defense mechanism known as “caudal autotomy,” where they can drop their tail to escape predators. The tail often wriggles to distract the predator while the gecko makes its escape. Over time, they can regrow a new tail.
Unlike many reptiles, some gecko species are vocal and produce various sounds, including chirps, clicks, and barks.
They mostly eat insects and other small invertebrates. Some larger species might consume smaller lizards or even small mammals.
Before mating, male geckos often display various courtship behaviors which can include chirping, waving their tails, or making specific body movements to attract a female.
Most geckos are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. The number of eggs per clutch can vary between species, but many geckos lay in pairs.
Some geckos give birth to live young instead of laying eggs. This is more common in species living in colder climates where eggs might not survive.
Geckos are found in various habitats worldwide, especially in warm climates. They can be seen in deserts, jungles, and even urban areas.
Geckos, like all reptiles, are ectothermic, meaning their internal body temperature is regulated by external environmental conditions rather than internal metabolic processes.
Geckos, particularly diurnal species, will bask in the sun to increase their body temperature. This helps them become more active and aids in digestion.
To avoid overheating, geckos may seek shade or burrow into cooler substrates. Many species are nocturnal, which allows them to avoid the intense heat of the day. Their activity during the cooler nighttime hours helps them maintain a suitable body temperature.