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Creature Feature: The New Caledonian Crested Gecko

July 14, 2014

I was returning some animals from an educational program the other day and saw the Coordinator of the Program Animal Collection, Adrian Yirka,  bent over a terrarium with what looked like baby food. “What are you doing?” I asked. He commented that he was feeding the baby crested gecko. Of course, I screeched because anything that is a baby animal sets me into cute overload. I barely noticed it, because it was so well camouflaged. He explained, that right now they are on a special diet and that he hand feeds them and also disperses the food around the terrarium so that they can seek it out on their own. Honestly, I knew what a crested gecko was and some basic facts, but after seeing the babies…I wanted to know more.

What I found out about the crested gecko is pretty amazing!

Crested geckos are found on the islands of Grand Terre and the Isle of Pines, New CaledoniaWhere exactly is that? Don’t worry, I asked the same exact question. New Caledonia, was named by the British explorer Captain James Cook, for it’s similarities with the Scottish highlands. The territory was annexed by France in 1853, and is now a special collectivity of France located in the southwest Pacific Ocean, near Australia.

There habitat is mostly tropical rainforest. There are three distinct populations of crested geckos: one on the Isle of Pines, and two on Grand Terre. The southeastern rainforests of Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia where crested geckos are primarily found, are divided by the highest peak on the island, Mont Paniė (1628 meters above sea level). Crested geckos spend daytime hours resting in thick vegetation near the forest floor, where it is cooler and less sunny. At night they spend much of their time foraging in shrubs and lower portions of the canopy, rarely traveling much higher than 3 meters from the forest floor. Crested geckos are omnivores, feeding primarily on insects, nectar, and fruits, hunting and feeding at night. After seeing pictures of Grand Terre it is definitely on my bucket list of places to visit.

The crested gecko has small crests that almost look like eyelashes which run down from the head all the way to mid back, and can seem almost cartoonish in appearance.  They can attain a length of about 7-10 in (17-25cm) when full grown, males being larger than females and have an enlarged tail base. The colors and patterns vary dramatically between individuals. The markings and coloration are not geographic indicators and young geckos from the same clutch may display differing coloration and markings.

Cool facts about Crested Geckos:

  • They have “sticky” toe pads that allow them to cling to very slick surfaces.
  • They have no eyelids; a transparent scale, or spectacle, keeps its eyes moist and it uses its tongue to clear away debris, this is called a brill.
  • When disturbed during the day, the Crested Gecko raises up on four legs to look bigger, opens its mouth wide . . . and makes loud sounds.
  • Crested Geckos cannot grow their tail back once it has fallen off.
  • The crested gecko has hair-like projections found above the eyes, resembling eyelashes.

In which things get fuzzy…

When I was researching the crested gecko I kept coming across two different scientific names for them; Rhacodactylus ciliatus and Correlophus ciliatus 

So, which one is it?  The scientific genus name of these geckos was, for a long time, Rhacodactylus. Pretty much all of the New Caladonian geckos were lumped together under this classification until a recent study untangled things a bit. Now that a number of different genus have been identified, the specific name of crested geckos for example, has gone from Rhacodactylus ciliatus to Correlophus ciliatus. Historically, they belonged to the genus Rhacodactylus. Rhacodactylus comes from the Greek Rhakos, meaning “spine”, and Dactylus, meaning “finger”. Ciliatus and is Latin, meaning “fringe” or “eyelash” and refers to the crest of skin over the animal’s eyes. Recent phylogenetic analysis indicates that R. ciliatus and R. sarasinorum are not closely related to the other giant geckos, so these two species have been moved back to the genus Correlophus.

Long story short, science keeps getting more advanced, and we discover new things about animals every day!

This is where things got really interesting in my research…

For the past century, the Crested Gecko has played hide-and-seek with humans. The crested gecko was first described in 1866 as Correlophus ciliatus by the French zoologist Alphone Guichenot. In 1883 the crested gecko was re-classified as Rhacodactylus ciliatus by another scientists, George Albert Boulenger , which was undone by another group of scientists in 2012… this is what I refer to as scientific name  “flip-flopping”. Very little was known about these specific geckos at the time and only a few specimens were collected. In 1993 a group of scientists listed  the crested gecko as most likely extinct. The crested gecko was only known from 16 specimens collected from a single locality on Grand Terre, it was presumed crested geckos were extinct as they had not been seen or collected for over a century (Bauer & Sadlier 1993). But then in 1994 the gecko was rediscovered on the Isle of Pines by German herpetologists after a tropical storm. From only a few specimens the crested gecko became very well established in captivity over the past few years, and is now one of the most popular lizards in the pet trade.

What are their threats?

The biggest single threat to the wild population appears to be the introduction of the little fire ant (Wassmania auropunctata) to New Caledonia. The ants prey on the geckos, stinging and attacking in great numbers and also compete with the geckos for food by preying on arthropods. Slash and burn agriculture, deforestation, and mining (nickel, cobalt and chromium), as well as the introduction of non-native species are all believed to be threats to crested geckos and they are classified by The IUCN Red List as “Vulnerable”, with a downward population trend. The primary indigenous conservation organization on New Caledonia, the Association pour la Savvegarde de la Nature NėoCalėdonienne (ASNNC) is currently working with the government to protect more land and habitat and raise awareness about the reptilian fauna of the islands.

The crested gecko is one of the most adaptive animals I have learned about, with a myriad of crazy physical features. I think I can officially add it to my top ten list of favorite critters!

Check out some of the images of the baby geckos!



One Comment leave one →
  1. permalink
    July 14, 2014 5:27 pm

    Love it..


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