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