8 New Minuscule Geckos Discovered in Madagascar

The smallest is about 2 inches and they all have 'cute' faces.

newly discovered gecko in Madagascar
Lygodactylus winki.

M. Scherz

They’re not bright and flashy like some of their relatives, but they certainly are tiny.

Eight new species of miniscule geckos were discovered by researchers in Madagascar. The smallest measures just 53 millimeters (about 2 inches) from its snout to the tip of its tail. The other new species aren’t much bigger.

Several researchers involved in the new paper have been collecting specimens of the gecko genus, Lygodactylus, during expeditions across Madagascar for the last three decades. There is one group, the subgenus Domerguella, that is most often found in rainforests.

“Personally, I find them beautiful, if somewhat cryptic little geckos,” Mark Scherz, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and last author on the study, tells Treehugger.

Until now, they thought there were three widespread species of Domerguella, as well as two rock-dwelling species limited to a very small area. They were trying to understand how they were distributed and how they evolved, believing that there were just five species.

“But when we sequenced the DNA that we have been collecting and compared the pieces we sequenced with other species in the genus, we realized that this one group of these geckos, the subgenus Domerguella, had a huge amount of what's called cryptic diversity; species that we had not realized were distinct because they are very similar in appearance to one another,” Scherz says.

Researchers named eight new species, but think there might be several more.

All in the Same Place

newly discovered gecko in Madagascar
Lygodactylus hapei.

H.-P. Berghof

In highly unusual circumstances, at times researchers found several similar species in the same place.

“In general, two animals that are extremely similar in their ecological habits—their diets, preferred living space, time of activity, etc.—are seldom found to co-occur. Usually, you either have (a) similar species that live in two different places or (b) different species that live in the same place,” Scherz says.

They found three or four species that were so alike that they hadn’t originally realized they were different from one another. They were all living together on Montagne d’Ambre in northern Madagascar.

“This suggests that there is some mechanism in place that is preventing these species from interbreeding and competing with each other too much,” Scherz says. “Just how they have achieved that, we currently do not know, but it is a really interesting question, and I hope there will be future work to try to understand what is going on here.”

Their findings were published in the journal Zootaxa.

Tiny With 'Cute' Faces

newly discovered gecko in Madagascar
Lygodactylus salvi.

M. Vences

The newly discovered gecko species are mostly brown, but they have some interesting features.

Domerguella are slender little geckos with large eyes with round pupils, and short faces, that gives them a really 'cute' face. All of them are mottled brown, but when you look closely, many of them have subtle lichen greens, golden browns, and sometimes even lemon yellow,” Scherz says.

“Personally I have always found them utterly enchanting. Most distinctively, these are really small geckos; not including the tail, they are about 3 centimeters or 1 inch long. They could sit happily on your pointer finger.” 

Like these new geckos, many of the species recently described in Madagascar have been very small including mini frogs. There are several reasons researchers have been newly finding these tiny species.

“Firstly, many of these small, often brown species have been overlooked by taxonomists until now, and there has been a bias towards the larger, more easily differentiated, and often more colorful species,” Scherz says.

In addition, advances in genetics have made it easier to define species so researchers can study them more closely.

“We have gotten much better at finding them and collecting good data on them, and we are constantly finding more species, where before we might have expected it to all be the same thing,” says Scherz.

“Finally, it seems that there is just a huge wealth of extremely small vertebrates on Madagascar. It's not entirely clear why this is, but the question of why and how so many small species have arisen is a really interesting one. It's an exciting time to be working on these wonderful, tiny animals!”

Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot. The island is home to thousands of animals and plants found nowhere else on Earth. One of the largest islands in the world, it has many different types of ecosystems.

“We also see extremely high levels of microendemism, so species that are only found in a very small area,” says Scherz. “That means that we often find new species when we visit places researchers have not been before, and also that it is very important to protect as much habitat as possible.

The discovery of these new species is important because they help researchers learn more about the history and evolution of the animals on the island. But knowing the species also helps with their conservation.

When a new species is described, that’s the first step toward getting it assessed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of threatened species and included in conservation planning of protected areas.

“You will hear it again and again: you cannot protect a species effectively if you don't have a name for it,” Scherz says. “It is important both to us from a scientific and heritage perspective, and to the geckos themselves from the perspective of their future and conservation.”

View Article Sources
  1. "Eight New Tiny Gecko Species from Madagascar!" Dr. Mark D. Scherz. 

  2. Mark Scherz, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Denmark and last author on the study

  3. https://www.mapress.com/zt/article/view/zootaxa.5179.1.1

  4. "Rewilding the Remarkable Madagascar." ReWild.