Bouldering in south-central Madagascar: a new “rock-climbing” gecko species of the genus Paroedura

Thanks to recently collected samples, it was described and named after its preferred habitat, the boulders surrounded by the last remaining forests at these sites.

Named after its habitat preference, Paroedura manongavato, from the Malagasy words “manonga” (to climb) and “vato” (rock), is a bouldering expert. Part of its “home range” is also very well-known to rock climbers for its massive granitic domes. “Its description represents another step into the crux (in climbing jargon, the most difficult section of a bouldering problem) of resolving the taxonomy of the recently revised P. bastardi group, where the new species belongs, and reaching a total of 25 described species in this genus, all exclusively living in Madagascar and Comoros,” says C. Piccoli from CIBIO – Research Center in Biodiversity and Genetic Resources, Portugal. She and her team just published a paper describing the new gecko.

Thus far, this species has only been found in Anja Reserve and Tsaranoro, both of which are isolated forest patches in the arid south-central plateau of Madagascar. These sites, at a distance of ca. 25 km, have a peculiar conformation, with huge granitic boulders close to rocky cliffs and surrounded by vegetation. The survival of P. manongavato, defined as microendemic for being restricted to a very narrow distributional range, thus depends on the preservation of these small forest patches. Subsequently, the authors proposed an evaluation of its conservation status as Critically Endangered, a category designated for species threatened of extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Its discovery history is long, starting during the Malagasy summer of 2010, when the first evidence of another Paroedura species was found in Anja, together with the recently described P. rennerae in 2021. Distinguishing these two species on the field is a difficult task. Both species have prominent dorsal-enlarged keeled scales and a similar dorsal pattern, although adults of P. manongavato have an overall less spiky appearance, less contrasted dorsal markings, and a smaller body size compared to P. rennerae. The need to collect more samples brought researchers A. Crottini, F. Andreone, and G. M. Rosa to return to Anja in 2014, and collect the future holotype (i.e. the name-bearing and description reference individual) of this new species. Later in 2018, F. Belluardo, J. Lobón-Rovira, and M. Rasoazanany, visited Anja and Tsaranoro again and were able to collect several tissue samples and high-resolution photos of the reptiles living in the area, including the new gecko species. This cumulative data collection was fundamental to advance with its description.

Published in the open access journal ZooKeys, this study highlights the importance of conducting herpetological inventories in Madagascar to improve our understanding of species diversity and progress with species conservation assessments. “The description of this species shows the importance of collaborative efforts when documenting biodiversity, especially for those range-restricted and isolated species at greatest risk of disappearing,” points out the leading author of this study C. Piccoli.

Research article:

Piccoli C, Belluardo F, Lobón-Rovira J, Oliveira Alves I, Rasoazanany M, Andreone F, Rosa GM, Crottini A (2023) Another step through the crux: a new microendemic rock-dwelling Paroedura (Squamata, Gekkonidae) from south-central Madagascar. ZooKeys 1181: 125-154. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1181.108134

Photos by Javier Lobón-Rovira.

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New species from a new country: A newly described gecko from Timor-Leste, the 4th youngest country in the world

For the first time, a new species of bent-toed gecko was described from the country, hinting at the unexplored diversity in the region.

Nestled amongst a chain of islands in the southern reaches of Southeast Asia, Timor-Leste occupies the eastern half of the island of Timor, the largest of the Lesser Sunda Islands that also include Bali and Komodo, the latter of which is home to the Komodo Dragon. In May 2002, Timor-Leste (officially the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste) became the first sovereign nation in the 21st century and is currently the 4th youngest country in the world.

A view from the road between Dili and Baucau, Timor-Leste. Photo by Graham Crumb shared under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license.

Even though the country lies in the highly biodiverse region of Wallacea, its biodiversity is relatively poorly known, partly because decades of pre-independence violence and conflict have hindered biological surveys. In August 2022, a partnership between the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (Singapore), Conservation International, and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of Timor-Leste conducted preliminary biological surveys across the eastern part of the island. The surveys specifically targeted remote and underexplored areas, such as the isolated mountain of Mundo Perdido (“Lost World” in Portuguese) and Nino Konis Santana National Park (NKS)—the first and largest national park in Timor-Leste.   

An aerial view of Nino Konis Santana National Park, Timor-Leste. Photo by UN Photo/Martine Perret under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license

NKS is an enormous park that covers 1,236 square kilometers of land and is mainly characterized by lowland tropical forests. In it, there are several limestone caves of archaeological importance,  and it was in one of those caves that a new gecko species was found.

While surveying the Lene Hara cave during the day, a member of the research team caught a glimpse of a lizard scurrying on the ground before disappearing into a crevice. Dr. Chan Kin Onn, a herpetologist at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum and the lead author of a study published in ZooKeys, sprung into action. Soon, he found himself wedged into a tight crevice in hopes of capturing the lizard.

Lene Hara cave, where the new species was found. Photo by Tan Heok Hui

“I couldn’t get to the lizard because the crack was too narrow, but I saw the rear half of its body and could tell that it was a bent-toed gecko from the genus Cyrtodactylus. New species of bent-toed geckos are being discovered all across Southeast Asia and due to the remoteness of the cave, the potential for this gecko to be a new species was high,” explained Dr. Chan.

Several hours later, under the cover of darkness, the team was back in the cave, this time equipped with flashlights. “Bent-toed geckos are usually nocturnal and can be skittish during the day. Our best chance at capturing them would be at night,” says Dr. Chan.True enough, after just one hour of looking, they collected ten specimens. A few weeks later, the gecko from Lena Hara cave was confirmed to be a new species based on DNA analysis and external morphological characteristics.

The new species of bent-toed gecko, Cyrtodactylus santana. Photo by Chan Kin Onn

The new species is named Cyrtodactylus santana, in reference to Nino Konis Santana National Park. The park’s name honors Nino Konis Santana, a freedom fighter who led the Falintil militia against the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste.

Even though past surveys have documented several populations of bent-toed geckos in Timor-Leste, none of them had been identified to the species level and thus, remain unnamed. Cyrtodactylus santana is the first bent-toed gecko in Timor-Leste formally described as a species.

The expedition also discovered several interesting plants and crabs that are currently being examined, all of which have the potential to be new species. “We have barely scratched the surface of Timor-Leste’s biodiversity. New discoveries can have profound impacts, because Timor-Leste is a substantial landmass bounded by deep sea trenches and is located at the fringe of the Wallacean Biodiversity Hotspot and Weber’s Line, a transitional zone between Oriental and Australasian fauna” remarked the researchers. Understanding the biodiversity of Timor-Leste could provide key insights into the divergence, evolution, and distribution of species, they believe.

Research article:

Chan KO, Grismer LL, Santana F, Pinto P, Loke FW, Conaboy N (2023) Scratching the surface: a new species of Bent-toed gecko (Squamata, Gekkonidae, Cyrtodactylus) from Timor-Leste of the darmandvillei group marks the potential for future discoveries. ZooKeys 1139: 107-126. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1139.96508

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Leaves and Spines: A new spiny-tailed leaf-toed gecko from the unexplored coastal savanna of Angola

A random survey in a poorly explored region of the southern Benguela Province of Angola, led to the discovery of a unique new spiny-tailed leaf-toed gecko.

Guest blog post by Javier Lobon-Rovira

After the long, hard days of fieldwork in the arid coastal region of southern Angola, Angolan researcher Pedro Vaz Pinto and his enthusiastic son Afonso, found the best spot to spend the night before heading back home. In the area of Carivo, every night was different: after four visits to this unique place, a different gecko species always showed up to add to the growing species list.

On a random night in August 2021, they went for a routine night walks and came across this unique gecko. In shock, Pedro immediately started sharing photos with the coauthors, Werner and Javier. “Guys, I think I found a new Kolekanos” he said.

Kolekanos is a unique and iconic gecko genus in Africa and more specifically only known from southwestern Angola. Kolekanos plumicaudus was described by one of the most recognized herpetologists in Africa, the late Wulf Haacke (1936– 2021).

Feather-tailed Kolekanos was at that point a monotypic genus (only one species in the genus), known only from ~200km south of the new discovery. Immediately, we all knew that what we were looking in that photo was something different from the known K. plumicaudus. “It is a Kolekanos… but, those are spines in the tail, not feathers…” was one of the most common reactions that night. So, we started planning our next trip to the area.

Three months later we were back at Carivo, now focusing on finding more specimens of that unique gecko. After only one hour, we spotted at least six specimens among the semi-dessert vegetations and rocks. At that moment, all doubt went away. The behavior and habitat of the new gecko was completely distinctive in comparison with K. plumicaudus.

Then, with our goal achieved and based on the big success of the first night, we planned to go back through different areas to explore some of the most remote regions in Northern Namibe and southern Benguela provinces. After two days driving on impossible roads, the team reached Ekongo. That night we were tired, so we decided to have a short walk around the camp. And… there it was…! Like a ghost, this small, cryptic, and elusive gecko started  showing up in every big rock boulder. 

This study, now published in the journal ZooKeys, also highlights how poorly explored and understood some regions of Angola remain, even as it has been considered as an important source of diversification and endemism in West Africa.

India’s relic forests reveal a new species of leopard gecko

The Painted Leopard Gecko is already under a threat of extinction, as it is being collected for the pet trade and may even be smuggled illegally.

Deep in the forests of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in India lives a colourful gecko species that only now revealed its true identity. Meet 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 near a temple in Vishakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh, during a field survey. Back then, they identified it as belonging to the East Indian Leopard Gecko species (Eublepharis hardwickii).

Painted leopard gecko ( Eublepharis pictus). Image by Sanjay Kumar & Avinash Ch.

“The species appears to be common in the hill forests, but its distinctness was only confirmed by other researchers,” Zeeshan Mirza explains.

In a phylogenetic study, where they looked for the evolutionary history and relationships within and between the leopard gecko species in the genus Eublepharis, the researchers found that what had until then been considered a southern population of East Indian Leopard Geckomight be distinct enough to represent a new species.

Once they had molecular data they could work with, the team made morphological comparisons between the species, looking at specimens across natural history museums.

Map of east India showing the distribution of E. hardwickii (black circles) and E. pictus (blue rhombus). Image of E. pictus by Gnaneshwar C. H.

“These lizards have conserved morphologies and most species are quite similar in general appearance,” Zeeshan Mirza elaborates. “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.” They published their discovery in the open-access scientific journal Evolutionary Systematics.

With this new addition, the gecko genus Eublepharis now contains 7 species. Two of them – E. pictus and E. satpuraensis – were described by Zeeshan Mirza.

The Painted Leopard Gecko measures 11.7 cm in length, which is somewhat large for a leopard gecko. The Brahmani River, which runs through the Eastern Ghats, separates it geographically from the East Indian Leopard Gecko, with which it shares a lot of similar traits.

The new species lives in dry evergreen forests mixed with scrub and meadows. It is strictly nocturnal, actively foraging along trails in the forest after dusk. While looking for food, it has been observed licking surfaces as it moves, which suggests it might use its tongue as a sensory organ.

Even though the Painted Leopard Gecko seems to be widespread across the state of Odisha and northern Andhra Pradesh, the researchers worry about its conservation. “The species is collected for the pet trade and even now may be smuggled illegally,” they write in their paper, which is why they refrain from giving out the exact locations where it may be found.

Painted leopard gecko ( Eublepharis pictus). Photo by Zeeshan Mirza

The authors believe the species would stand more of a chance against humans if more people knew it was actually harmless. To protect it, they suggest listing it as Near Threatened based on IUCN conservation prioritisation 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,” the authors conclude.

Research article:

Mirza ZA, Gnaneswar C (2022) Description of a new species of leopard geckos, Eublepharis Gray, 1827 from Eastern Ghats, India with notes on Eublepharis hardwickii Gray, 1827. Evolutionary Systematics 6(1): 77-88. https://doi.org/10.3897/evolsyst.6.83290

The scaled king and his knight: 2 new giant bent-toed gecko species from New Guinea

The extremely complex geological history of New Guinea has allowed many of its animals and plants the chance to grow different enough to make a name for themselves. In the case of two newly described and unusually large gecko species – only a noble name would do. The two new species whose names respectively mean ‘knight’ and ‘king’ were discovered by a team led by Dr. Paul Oliver, The Australian National University and University of Melbourne, are described in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Both new species belong to the world’s most diverse gecko genus Cyrtodactylus which comprises more than 200 species known to date. These reptiles are commonly called bent-toed or bow-fingered geckos due to their distinctive slender curved toes. They occur through Asia and Australia.

These 200 species vary greatly in size, build and colouration. However, one of the newly described species, called C. rex, meaning “king” in Latin, is the largest species in the genus, and among the biggest of all geckos in the world.

In general, the bent-toed geckos measure no more than 13 cm in length, yet the “gecko king” can grow up to 17 cm, with the females slightly bigger than the males. It is also characterised with upper body side covered in alternating regions of dark grey brown and medium brown. There are also variable in size and shape, but clearly defined dark grey-brown markings. All examined specimens are reported to have either four or five dark brown blotches or bands running down their original tails.

The second new species also bears a noble name – Cyrtodactyulus equestris, meaning ‘knight’ in Latin. It is also considered a giant among its relatives with its length of up to 14 cm for the females. Similarly to its larger relative, its head is large and wide, clearly distinct from the neck. Its upper side is coloured with alternating regions of light and medium brown. While in smaller individuals the patches are visibly defined by dark brown edging, such is missing in the larger ones, giving their pattern slightly faded appearance.

As a whole, the distribution of the two new geckos overlap, although the “gecko knight” is reported to prefer the relatively undisturbed hill or lower montane forests of northern New Guinea and its neighbour “the king” seems to stick to the surrounding lowlands.

While the larger size of the New Guinean bent-toed geckos seems to be an evolutionary trend, the role of potential factors such as competition, ecological diversification, isolation and dispersal remains quite a mystery.

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Original source:

Oliver PM, Richards SJ, Mumpuni, Rösler H (2016) The Knight and the King: two new species of giant bent-toed gecko (Cyrtodactylus, Gekkonidae, Squamata) from northern New Guinea, with comments on endemism in the North Papuan Mountains. ZooKeys 562: 105-130. doi: 10.3897/zookeys.562.6052