|Image Credit: F. Glaw|
Many lizards can drop their tails when grabbed, but one group of geckos has devised a different method to escape predation. The skin of fish-scale geckos is specially adapted to tearing. The large scales are attached only by a relatively narrow region that tears with ease, and beneath them they have a pre-formed splitting zone within the skin itself. Together, these features make them especially good at escaping from predators. Although several other geckos are able to lose their skin like this if they are grasped really firmly, Geckolepis are apparently able to do it actively, and at the slightest touch. And while others might take a long time to regenerate their scales, fish-scale geckos can grow them back, scar-free, in a matter of weeks.
The new species was found in northern Madagascar and its name was build from the two Greek stems mégas, meaning ‘very large’ and lepís, meaning ‘scale’, and refers to the large size of the scales of this species in comparison to other geckos.
For the experts: The gecko genus Geckolepis, endemic to Madagascar and the Comoro archipelago, is taxonomically challenging. One reason is its members ability to autotomize a large portion of their scales when grasped or touched, most likely to escape predation. Based on an integrative taxonomic approach including external morphology, morphometrics, genetics, pholidosis, and osteology, we here describe the first new species from this genus in 75 years: Geckolepis megalepis sp. nov. from the limestone karst of Ankarana in northern Madagascar. The new species has the largest known body scales of any gecko (both relatively and absolutely), which come off with exceptional ease. We provide a detailed description of the skeleton of the genus Geckolepis based on micro-Computed Tomography (micro-CT) analysis of the new species, the holotype of G. maculata, the recently resurrected G. humbloti, and a specimen belonging to an operational taxonomic unit (OTU) recently suggested to represent G. maculata. Geckolepis is characterized by highly mineralized, imbricated scales, paired frontals, and unfused subolfactory processes of the frontals, among other features. We identify diagnostic characters in the osteology of these geckos that help define our new species and show that the OTU assigned to G. maculata is probably not conspecific with it, leaving the taxonomic identity of this species unclear. We discuss possible reasons for the extremely enlarged scales of G. megalepis in the context of an anti-predator defence mechanism, and the future of Geckolepis taxonomy.