Scientists discover new gecko that looks like a dragon on Queensland island

Under the boulders of a small island in Queensland lives a species of leaf-tailed gecko which has only just been described.

The gecko has been discovered by a James Cook University evolutionary biologist, Associate Professor Conrad Hoskin.

“A recent targeted reptile survey of Scawfell Island, in the South Cumberland Group, revealed a species of Phyllurus gecko that could not be morphologically assigned to any described species,” Hoskin wrote in the new paper.

Scawfell Island – about 4 kilometres at its widest point – is south of the Whitsundays and just 50 kms away from Mackay. It’s part of the larger South Cumberland national park.

This new gecko species, which has been named ‘Phyllurus fimbriatus’ after its fringed tail, is quite large for a gecko at around 11 cm long for an adult. They also have a flared, fringed tail with a white ‘V’ band on the back, and raised bumps called tubercles on their back and tail.  

Phyllurus fimbriatus geckos on a rock (top) and after death (bottom). Credit: Conrad Hoskin

“It’s really quite smooth for a leaf-tail – they’re usually much more spiky. It’s a got a really distinct … pattern and a nice big beaky face,” Hoskin told The Guardian.

“It looks like a little dragon or something.”

There’s lots of species of leaf-tailed gecko, but many of those from the Phyllurus genus are specific to small ranges on the coast of Queensland.

The new species is no exception – it was discovered under large, lichen covered rocks in rainforest areas.

“All the Queensland species are found in rainforest and most occur in areas of layered rock, probably due to the long-term buffering effect of these ‘litho-refugia’ in otherwise hot, dry, fireprone landscape,” Hoskin wrote in the new paper.

“Density was high within suitable habitat, with at least fifteen individuals found within approximately three hours search time at each of the two sites.”

Rocky outcrop
A layered rock area inside a rainforest on the island where the geckos were found. Credit: Conrad Hoskin

Hoskin took the survey in November 2021. He found the species in only two rocky areas; however he suggests that the number of animals he found suggests that there’s likely more in other areas of the island.

Hoskin has noted in the paper that fire, climate change, and competition from the invasive Asian House Geckos could all affect the little dragon gecko into the future.

The research has been published in Zootaxa

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