Phelsuma ornataOrnate Day Gecko

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Geographic Range

The Mauritius ornate day gecko, Phelsuma ornata ornata, is endemic to the Indian Ocean region. It inhabits tropical forests and coconut plantations on Mauritius, an island in the western half of the Indian Ocean near Madagascar. Another subspecies, the Reunion Island ornate day gecko, Phelsuma ornata inexpectata, inhabits Reunion, a neighboring island to Mauritius (Greg 1999, Lamar 1997).

Habitat

A native to the tropical rainforests and coconut plantations of two African Islands, P. ornata spends it's days and nights on leaves and branches, tending to prefer smooth areas to rest and sunbathe. With its ability to survive in altered habitats, this day gecko is often seen roaming about in cultivated areas and walking up walls or across ceilings in neighboring homes (Greg 1999, Lamar 1997).

Physical Description

Like many geckos, Phelsuma ornata is characterized by its soft skin, bizarre eyes, specialized feet, and brilliant colors. Gaily colored in striking patterns of greens, blues, yellows, reds, and oranges, the dry-scaly skin is fine and sensitive, making it extremely susceptible to tears. The unblinking, large eyes are lidless and covered by a transparent, protective shield that is kept clean by the thick, sticky tongue; the pupils of the eye are round, to compensate for the geckos diurnal lifestyle. At the end of its short-strong limbs are expanded toe pads with scales (lamellae) covered by a myriad of microscopic hair-like bristles (setae). At the tip of each bristle, there are between 100 and 1000 minute suction cups, which allows the gecko to walk up walls, across ceilings, and even across the smooth pane of a glass window. Phelsuma ornata, one of the smalles reptiles in the world, ranges in length from 1.5 to 2.5 cm. It has a broad-flattened head and its thick-stumpy tail breaks easily, but will begin to regenerate after only a few days. There is sexual dimorphism. Male P.ornata, in comparison to females, are generally more massive and have proportionately larger femoral pores, obvious during the breeding season, that continue uninterrupted into the preanal area (Bartlett and Bartlett 1997, Behler and King 1998, Lamar 1997).

Reproduction

Female P.ornata lay one to two eggs, often attached to one another and will hold eggs pressed together with her hind legs until the shells become hard. These geckos are called "gluers", because they attach their eggs to the substrate making it impossible to remove the eggs safely without breaking the shell. Once the eggs are laid, the female abandons them to survive on their own. Incubation lasts two to three months and the newly born geckos will reach their sexual maturity in about a year. Sexually mature females are characterized by having calcium deposits in their endolymphatic sacs located just behind their ears; sexually mature males develop enlarged femoral pores on their hind legs and produce a waxy exudate resembling droplets (Bartlett and Bartlett 1997, Behler and King 1998).

Behavior

Diurnal (active during the day) and arboreal (tree dwelling), P. ornata spends its days leaping along leaves and branches in search of insects, and lapping up nectar and overripe fruit. The day gecko is the most vocal of all lizards. Their voices vary from the sound originated by an Asian lizard that prompted the family name, "geh-ho". This sound comes from clicking the broad tongue against the roof of the mouth. The gecko has a wide variety of predators, including snakes and large invertebrae. Its skin, easily torn, can be seen as a defense mechanism against its predators because it enables them to escape (Behler and King 1998, Lamar 1997).

Food Habits

Like many of the species of Phelsuma inhabiting the islands around and on Madagascar, Phelsuma ornata is omnivorous, spending its days leaping around in search of insects, lapping up nectar, saps, and juices, and consuming pollen and overripe fruits (Bartlett and Bartlett 1997).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

All day geckos, including Phelsuma ornata, benefit humans by helping to control the insect population (Bartlett and Bartlett 1997). There is a pet trade in these animals.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

None.

Conservation Status

All Phelsuma are listed as CITES II animals, which means that trade within this genus is restricted. Conservationists fear that the long-term survival of many of these species is being threatened by habitat destruction and that the exportation of wild collected geckos for the pet trade is hastening the demise of many (Greg 1999, Bartlett and Bartlett 1997).

Other Comments

Although is some regions it is feared as a poisonous lizard, P. ornata is not venomous and would not be harmful to humans (Greg 1999).

Contributors

Shannon Riemland (author), Michigan State University, James Harding (editor), Michigan State University.

Glossary

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.

rainforest

rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.

References

Bartlett, R., P. Bartlett. 1997. Lizard Care From A to Z. Barron's Education Series, Inc..

Behler, J., F. King. 1979, 1998. National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. New York: Chanticleer Press, Inc..

Greg, L. 1999. "Leaping Lizards Homepage" (On-line). Accessed November 5, 1999 at http://www.daygecko.com/.

Lamar, W. 1997. The World's Most Spectacular Reptiles and Amphibians. Tampa, Florida: World Publications.