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All Creatures,

Episode 104: In the Pacific, Gecko Defies Gravity

July 16, 2019

This week we cover another reptile, an endangered species, the Pacific Gecko. Native to New Zealand, this lizard species is making a comeback. Through the efforts of the New Zealand government, the Pacific Gecko is recovering. Geckos are incredible animals with special abilities and physiology that will blow you away.

Pacific Gecko History

The Pacific Gecko evolved on the islands of New Zealand. More specifically, they were originally located on the North Island. However, with the introduction of invasive species by Europeans in the 1800s the Pacific Gecko, much like many of New Zealand’s wildlife suffered a dramatic decline. However, with recent efforts and relocation of this gecko species to the predator free islands around New Zealand, this species has recovered.

Briefly, reptiles date back nearly 320 million years. A time way before dinosaurs ever inhabited the Earth. The oldest known Gecko fossil was discovered in amber that dates back nearly 100 millions years.  Today there are an estimated 1500 to 2000 species of Geckos. There are 5 major subfamilies and the Pacific Gecko’s scientific name is Dactylocnemis pacificus.

Gecko Physiology

What is most amazing about Geckos is their incredible physiology. Some other facts include:

  • Many are nocturnal with night vision 350x that of humans
  • Diets include invertebrates, nectar, fruit
  • They on average live 15 to 20 years, but New Zealand Geckos may live up to 40 years
  • Shed skin every 2 to 4 weeks as adults
  • Have hundreds of thousands hair like spines on skin that trap air, making them water resistant
  • Geckos cannot blink, but rather use their tongues to clean their eyes

Two amazing physiological adaptations is their ability to voluntarily lose their tail and their ability to climb nearly every surface.

First, there are special break points in a Gecko tail that allows them to lose their tails when threatened. Nerves within the tails still are active, making it squirm. They do this in hopes the predator stops to eat the tail and not them. There are many incredible processes to repair the tail and they can completely replace their tails in 30 to 60 days.

Second, a Geckos ability to climb is due to the microscopic hairs on their feet, called setae. Within each hair, there are hundreds of bristles. This greatly increases the surface area of the Geckos feet and toes. When they place their feet down, it stimulates what is called van der Waals force. This means at the molecular level, the tiny brist

les electrons are attracted to the surface electrons. Through an electromagnetic pull, the feet are solidly planted on the surface.

 

Another amazing fact is New Zealand Geckos give birth to live young. A video of this can be seen HERE.

Pacific Gecko Conservation

The Pacific Gecko has not been categorized by the IUCN. However, the New Zealand government classifies them as Relict. This means, taxa that have undergone a documented decline within the last 1000 years, and now occupy  20 000 mature individuals; population stable or increasing at > 10%

The species have secure island populations but are in decline on the mainland. As with all New Zealand species of gecko, threats include: mammalian predators, habitat alteration and destruction.

New Zealand Herpetological Society

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