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New species of gecko has been hiding in plain sight

06 March 2020

Six new species of gecko that have essentially been hiding in plain sight have been described by Queensland Museum scientists.

One of the new species, named the plain tree gecko Gehyra gemina, is common on road houses and other building from Broome to the Queensland border, yet despite being widely found across northern Australia, the species was undescribed by science until now.

Queensland Museum Senior Curator and Griffith University researcher Dr Paul Oliver said that this species is one of six new species from the genus Gehyra.

“This gecko, at first glance can look a lot like a common Asian House Gecko and can sometimes be dismissed as such, but in actual fact it’s an Australian gecko and a new species,” Dr Oliver said.

“It has been hiding in plain sight this whole time and thanks to genetics we have been able to formally describe this species, along with five others.”

Not all the species are hanging out in buildings along northern Australia’s highways, three can be found in rocky outcrops, respectively in the Kimberley, south of Darwin and in the Mt Isa area.

Dr Oliver said genetics were critical to identifying these new species.

“Genetics help us define species particularly when many really do look very similar to each other –  there are some that I can’t tell apart just by looking at them,” Dr Oliver said.

“New advances in genetics mean we can confidently say they really are not interbreeding, despite the fact that many look really similar.

“They may not look that different to us, but clearly they can tell each other apart.”

Queensland Museum CEO Dr Jim Thompson said that research is central to species identification.

“Research such as this highlights the importance taxonomy plays in the field of science and understanding our biodiversity,” Dr Thompson said.

“There is still much to learn about biodiversity in our country and museums play an important role in describing and conserving our natural history in Australia.”

Minister for Science and Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said this discovery highlights the importance new technologies play in classifying new species.

“As technology advances, researchers are able to unlock information and data that allows them to increase our understanding the incredibly diverse array of species that inhabit our state,” Minister Enoch said.

“Queensland Museum scientists are using the latest technology in DNA sequencing to describe six new species that were previously unknown to science.

“What I find fascinating is that people have had these geckos frequenting their homes and yards for years and not known they were living with a species unknown to science.”

The paper with the new species was recently published in PeerJ and can be accessed here: https://peerj.com/articles/7971/

New species:

Gehyra arnhemica
The species epithet refers to the Arnhem Land region of the north-east top end of the NT, in reference to the species occurrence and apparent endemism to the region.
Found: Top end of the Northern Territory.

Gehyra gemina
The species epithet is from the Latin word gemina (twin, same), in reference to the species’ morphological similarities shared with other members of the G. australis complex, G.australis in particular.
Found: Occurs widely through the northern deserts of WA and the NT. 

Gehyra lauta
The species epithet is from the Latin word lautus (washed, neat, elegant), in reference to the plain or washed out dorsal pattern of the species.
Found: Restricted to the rocky ranges of north-western Qld and north-eastern NT. 

Gehyra chimera
The species named after Chimera, a monstrous hybrid creature of Greek mythology composed of parts of multiple animals, pertaining to the close morphological similarity to the G.australis complex juxtaposed against clear genetic membership in the G. koira complex.
Found: Found in the west of the Kimberley region of WA, as far south as Bell Gorge in the King Leopold Ranges, west to Koolan and Kingfisher Islands on the northern edge of the Yampi Peninsula, and north as far as Theda Station. 

Gehyra lapistola
The species epithet is formed from the Latin words lapis (rock, stone) and stolo (runner), used in its adjectival form as stola, as in ‘rock-running’, in reference to the species occurrence in rocky escarpment and outcrop habitats.
Found: Restricted to the rocky ranges of north-eastern NT. 

Gehyra calcitectus
The species epithet is formed from the Latin words calcis (limestone) and tectus (hidden, hideaway), as in ‘limestone-hidden’ or ‘limestone hideaway’, in reference to the species occurrence in and apparent preference for relictual limestone habitats of the Kimberley limestone ranges. Used as a noun in apposition.
Found: Known only from three isolated and disjunct limestone ranges along the southern and western edge of the Kimberley region, in Pillara Range on Gogo Station and on Lissadell and Argyle Stations. 

Media Enquiries:

media@qm.qld.gov.au
Christine Robertson, Senior Media Officer, 3840 7789/0417 741 710
Kylie Hay, Senior Media Officer, 3842 9388/0434 565 852