Holotype of Uroplatus garamaso

Master of Disguise – Scientists Discover New “Cryptic” Species of Leaf-Tailed Gecko

Holotype of Uroplatus garamaso

The holotype (representative image) of Uroplatus garamaso shows the amazing tail and body color of the new species. Credit: Dr. Mark D. Scherz, Natural History Museum of Denmark

An international team of scientists has identified and named a new species of tailed deer from northern Madagascar, known as Uroplatus garamaso.

Leaf-tailed geckos are masters of camouflage. Others species they have patches of skin all over the body and head, joined by flat tails. During the day, they rest on the trunks of trees, scattered on the skin, perfectly integrated into their surroundings and making themselves invisible. As night falls, they come to life, moving along the thin branches of the understory in search of prey for invertebrates.

“When we first discovered this species in 2000, we already suspected that it might be new to science,” says Dr. Frank Glaw, curator of zoology at the Bavarian State Collection of Zoology, lead author of the study. But it took us many years to gather enough information to confidently describe it as a new species.

First jumping Uroplatus garamaso

Leaf-tailed geckos are good jumpers, and often connect their hands and feet before jumping. Credit: Dr. Jörn Köhler, Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Germany

The team collected data on the genetics, morphology, and distribution of the species. Several expeditions were made to the north of Madagascar in order to increase the knowledge of this new animal. The discovery was recently published in an open access scientific journal Salamander.

Uroplatus garamaso, Hidden head above

During the day, Uroplatus garamaso it rests hidden, head-down on the trunks of trees, with their hind legs outstretched and the edges pressed against the bark, making them invisible. Here, the forest is directly observed, as one would (not) find in the forest. Credit: Dr. Mark D. Scherz, Natural History Museum of Denmark

Another challenge was that Uroplatus garamaso is remarkably similar to other species, Uroplatus henkel, and has been confused with it in the past. “This is typical for reptiles from Madagascar” explains Dr. Jörn Köhler of the Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt. “Many of these are so-called ‘cryptic species’, awaiting taxonomic treatment.”

Uroplatus is visible, hidden

Leaf-tailed geckos are masters of camouflage, too Uroplatus garamaso one of the best. Here, the bird is hiding to the right of the tree trunk. Credit: Dr. Mark D. Scherz, Natural History Museum of Denmark

Through careful analysis, the authors were able to find some features that distinguish these two species. “The main thing was to find out that the tip of the tongue is black U. Henkeland pink inside U. Garamaso” says Dr. Philip-Sebastian Gehring of the University of Bielefeld, Germany. At 20 cm long, the new species is also smaller than U. Henkeland has a narrow tail.

“The new type is the latest in a new series Uroplatus geckos have been described in Madagascar in the past few years,” said Dr Fanomezana Ratsoavina of the University of Antananarivo, Madagascar, who is doing her PhD on leaf-tailed geckos.

Uroplatus garamaso, Revealed

Here, we reveal the secret to its hidden place. Credit: Dr. Mark D. Scherz, Natural History Museum of Denmark

“We are close to completing the taxonomic list of the species, but this is just the beginning of our understanding of evolution and ecology,” said Dr Mark Scherz, curator of herpetology at the Natural History Museum of Denmark. “The color of the mouth, which has been very useful in identifying various species, has a completely unknown function. There’s still a lot we don’t know about these geckos, from their broad evolutionary relationships to their behavior. “

Beating Gaze Uroplatus garamaso

The strange eyes of Uroplatus garamaso helps distinguish it from the closely related species of leaf-tailed geckos. Credit: Dr. Jörn Köhler, Hessisches Landesmuseum Darmstadt, Germany

Reference: “A new large-sized species of leaf-tailed gecko (Uroplatus) from northern Madagascar” by Glaw, F., J. Köhler, FM Ratsoavina, AP Raselimanana, A. Crottini, P.-S. Gehring, W. Böhme, MD Scherz and M. Vences, 15 August 2023, Salamander.

This study was funded by the Foundation for Science and Technology.

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