November 2012

A Gecko's Tale

Although I am a zoologist I haven’t seen anything like this specimen before and have trouble placing it into any groups or families that I know. Its length is approximately 70mm. It has no real feet, instead a series of grouped spines are present along its body. What is it?

Answer

Severed tail of a northern Leaf-tailed Gecko

Adult Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius cornutus)Your unusual creature was once part of something truly remarkable!

It is the original tail of a hard-to-find Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius cornutus).

The amazing flattened, shield-shaped tail of these geckoes
performs several functions. It acts as a fat store, as a decoy and it also assists in excellent camouflage.

Like many lizards, these remarkable geckos can shed their tail in order to distract a predator. A high proportion of wild individuals have re-grown tails, testifying to the success of this decoy strategy. These individuals have survived a life-threatening situation. Re-grown tails of this species lack the complex spines and lengthened tip of an original tail.
As camouflage, the flattened profile of the tail will not cast a shadow. This helps by not defining a dark edge around the outline of the lizard’s body. Instead the body and tail with all the elaborate spiky edges blends into the background. This example of camouflage can be seen in the Discovery Centre with our Leaf-tailed Geckoes in the Creature Feature Display.
 
The gecko that parted with this particular tail probably has an unusual tale to tell, one of terrifying and gigantic creatures!

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.