Rhacodactylus ciliatusCrested Gecko, Eyelash Gecko

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Geographic Range

Crested geckos are endemic to the islands of Grand Terre (Provence Sud), and the Isle of Pines, New Caledonia. There are unconfirmed reports of these geckos from Kôtomo Island, New Caledonia. (De Vosjoli, 2003; Whitaker and Sadlier, 2011)

Habitat

There are three distinct and disjunct populations of crested geckos: one on the Isle of Pines, and two on Grand Terre. The southeastern rainforests of Grand Terre, the main island of New Caledonia where crested geckos are primarily found, are divided by the highest peak on the island, Mont Paniė (1628 meters above sea level). This greatly influences climate and soil type in the region. High and low temperatures can range from 11.1-27.8°C, though temperatures typically range from 22.2-23.9°C. This area is tropical rainforest with precipitation levels potentially as high as 400 cm per year. They are most typically found at elevations from 150-1000 meters above sea level. Crested geckos spend daytime hours resting in thick vegetation near the forest floor, where it is cooler and less sunny. At night they spend much of their time foraging in shrubs and lower portions of the canopy, rarely traveling much higher than 3 m from the forest floor. (De Vosjoli, 2003; Logan and Cole, 2001; Whitaker and Sadlier, 2011)

  • Range elevation
    150 to 1000 m
    492.13 to 3280.84 ft

Physical Description

Crested geckos have a relatively large, triangular head, with two large eyes and two relatively large ear openings on either side of the head. Very fine light tan, peach, or reddish brown-colored granular scales cover their long bodies. They have moderately thick, prehensile tails. The back typically has a pattern of lateral, darker stripes. Thin, continuous, calcareous crest, project along either side of the back and also above the eyes and portions of the limbs. Above the eyes, these crests seem to serve primarily to keep dust and other particles out, but it is unknown what purpose is served by the dorsal and limb crests; they may be used in discriminating between potential mates. There are three color morphs that appear in wild crested geckos: patternless, tiger, and white-fringed. Patternless crested geckos are more or less solid in color, ranging from yellow, green, brown, red, to gray, and have very faint or no pattern present on the back. Tiger crested geckos have a light colored background with deep, dark, contrasting stripes and a patterned belly. White-fringed crested geckos are characterized by white or yellow coloration on all or a portion of the calcareous crest. In addition to these three patterns, there are many other variations that are distinct in captive bred individuals but are not found in the wild. (Badger and Netherton, 2002; Boulenger, 1883; De Vosjoli, 2003)

Crested geckos have four limbs, each ending in four fingers; at the bottom of each finger is a network of hairs (setae) which allow them to walk on very smooth vertical surfaces. These pads are especially important in tree climbing. Crested geckos also have a prehensile tail with setae at the tip, adding extra support when hanging from tree branches or trying to regain balance; unlike many species, these geckos can not re-grow their tails if lost. Adult crested geckos typically average 20.3 centimeters in total length and 10.2-11.9 centimeteres snout-to-vent length (SVL). These geckos lack eyelids, though they do have a clear protective covering over each eye. They must lick their eyes with their tongues periodically in order to keep them clean and moist. Crested geckos have a small opening, covered in a tympanic membrane, on each side of side of the head, which acts as an ear. (Boulenger, 1883; De Vosjoli, 2003; Jusufi, et al., 2008)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    30 to 35 g
    1.06 to 1.23 oz
  • Average length
    20.3 cm
    7.99 in

Development

Information regarding development in this species has not been gathered in the wild, but has been extensively recorded in captivity. It has been found that temperature is a determining factor on rate of development, offspring size, and sex. In particular, sex is not determined genetically but after egg laying, by environmental temperature. Evidence suggests that warmer incubation temperatures lead to higher proportions of males and colder incubation temperatures lead to higher proportions of females. It has also been observed that crested gecko eggs kept at higher temperatures during incubation develop faster than eggs kept at lower temperatures. (Andrewartha, et al., 2010; De Vosjoli, 2003; Gamble, 2010; Valenzuela, 2004)

After hatching, young crested geckos will not eat for 3-5 days (until they shed their skins for the first time), using stored yolk remains for sustenance. After this period of time, hatchlings will begin searching for food such as nectar, fruits, and small insects. (De Vosjoli, 2003)

Reproduction

Mating behaviors have yet to be observed in the wild. Captive males have been known to fight violently if forced into contact with each other, especially during breeding season, and so multiple breeding females are kept with one male. A male will approach a female with jerky movements and, if she is willing, she will remain still while he climbs on her back and bites her neck as copulation begins. ("Crested Gecko", 2013; De Vosjoli, 2003)

Males become sexually mature between 9-12 months of age and females typically become mature at 12 months at a weight of 30-35 gm. At 3-4 months old, an external hemipenal bulge becomes visible in males, located at the base of the tail near the vent. In contrast, females are flat at the base of their tails, with much smaller bulges. Females are capable of laying 2 eggs every 4-6 weeks and do so 30-40 days after copulation; they retain sperm and may lay up to 4 eggs before copulating again. Breeding and egg laying takes place 8-10 months of the year, with a shift to lower temperatures halting egg production. If this resting period does not occur, females may lay eggs year round and are at risk of suffering severe calcium deficiencies. Eggs can be as large as 11x24 mm and 1.2-2.8 gm, and hatch 60-150 days after being laid. Young are independent at hatching. ("Crested Gecko", 2013; De Vosjoli, 2003)

  • Breeding interval
    Breeding may occur every 4-6 weeks.
  • Breeding season
    Egg laying takes place 8-10 months of the year; it may occur year round if there is no cooling cycle.
  • Range number of offspring
    2 (low)
  • Range gestation period
    90 to 190 days
  • Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    1 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    9 to 12 months

Males exhibit no parental investment beyond fertilization. Females allocate nutrients to their eggs (moreso because of their small clutches) and lay their eggs in a hole a few inches deep, safe from predators, and within an appropriate proper temperature range and soil moisture, allowing for gas exchange through the egg membrane. After laying her eggs, the female does not provide any additional parental care to her developing offspring. (Andrewartha, et al., 2010; Christian and Bedford, 1993; De Vosjoli, 2003; Valenzuela, 2004)

Lifespan/Longevity

Crested geckos are thought to be able to live for over 20 years in captivity, though there is some uncertainty; they have only recently been reintroduced to science and the pet trade (1994) after having been assumed extinct. No information regarding lifespan in the wild is currently available. ("Crested Gecko", 2013; De Vosjoli, 2003; Whitaker and Sadlier, 2011)

  • Range lifespan
    Status: captivity
    10 to 20 years

Behavior

Crested geckos are typically solitary, nocturnal animals. which tend to hide in thick vegetation during the day and emerge into the lower canopy at night (usually no higher than 3 m) to search for food. They are also semi-arboreal, very agile, and stealthy. They can jump short distances, from branch to branch, and they are able to hold on to tree branches easily using the adhesive pads on their feet and their adhesive, prehensile tails. ("Crested Gecko", 2013; Bauer, 1998; Jusufi, et al., 2008)

Home Range

There is no data currently available regarding a particular home range or territory for these geckos. In captivity, it is not recommended to keep more than one male in an enclosure as they may be aggressive to each other, suggesting that males could be territorial in the wild. ("Crested Gecko", 2013; De Vosjoli, 2003)

Communication and Perception

Crested geckos use a high pitched chirping sound that is primarily used to call for a mate and as a defense mechanism to frighten a predator in an attempt to escape. They also use visual cues; if startled, crested geckos have been known to rise up on their hind legs and open their mouths wide in a threatening posture, and mating involves jerky body motions from the male. (Badger and Netherton, 2002; De Vosjoli, 2003; Underwood, 1951)

Crested geckos have specialized eyes for seeing in the dark. Like other gekkonid species, crested geckos have what has been referred to as Gehyra pupils; instead of having vertical, slit-shaped pupils with smooth edges, geckos have vertical, slit-shaped pupils with slightly lobed edges. They have color vision, as their retinas contain only cones. Nocturnal geckos such as these have larger apertures and cones, in addition to a shorter viewing length, than diurnal reptiles. This allows them to absorb as much light and see as much as possible in the dark. (Roth and Kelber, 2004; Underwood, 1951)

Food Habits

Crested geckos are omnivores, feeding primarily on insects, nectar, and fruits, hunting and feeding at night. Calcium and Vitamin D3 are vital for the proper growth and development of crested geckos, especially for young individuals. Deficiencies can result in metabolic bone diseases, which can be fatal, so they have endolymphatic sacs on the roofs of their mouths for calcium storage. (Cooper, 2000; De Vosjoli, 2003; McWilliams, 2005)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • nectar
  • sap or other plant fluids

Predation

One of the main predators of crested geckos are little fire ants, which have been introduced to New Caldonia and will swarm and bite the geckos. Other predators include dogs, cats, rats, snakes, and other geckos, many of which are introduced species as well. Crested geckos exhibit caudal autotomy and can drop their tails if in danger from a predator. Vasoconstrictor mechanisms prevent the tail from bleeding and small fractures in the tail bone allow the tail to break off at predetermined segments. After being dropped, the tail will continue to move for 3-5 minutes, distracting the predator as the gecko escapes. These geckos can not re-grow their tails, which can cause them to become less agile. (De Vosjoli, 2003; Pianka and Sweet, 2005; Seipp and Henkel, 2000; Whitaker and Sadlier, 2011)

  • Known Predators
    • Dogs
    • Cats
    • Rats
    • Snakes
    • Henkel's giant gecko (Rhacodactylus leachianus henkeli)
    • Little fire ant (Wassmania auropunctata)

Ecosystem Roles

Very little is known of the role that crested geckos have in their ecosystem. One reason for this is that, for more than a century, crested geckos were believed to be extinct. In 1994 they were rediscovered and most of the studies and observations carried out following their rediscovery were on captive bred individuals. Crested geckos are likely important in the distribution of pollen for various nectar and fruiting plants. These geckos have been found to host parasitic amoebas and protozoans. (Bauer and Sadlier, 1993; May, 2013; Modrý, et al., 2004)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Entamoeba invadens (Class Archamoebae, Phylum Amoebozoa)
  • Isospora sykorai (Order Eucoccidiorida, Phylum Apicomplexa)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Crested geckos are a favorite in the pet trade because they are very docile and are easy to maintain. The wide availability of crested geckos may help to draw attention to the 41 regionally endemic species of reptiles present on New Caledonia and the importance of protecting them. An interest in preserving these habitats could then play some role in increasing wildlife research and conservation efforts on these islands. (Bauer and Sadlier, 1993)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pet trade
  • research and education

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse effects of crested geckos on humans.

Conservation Status

Little is known about crested geckos in their natural environments, and even less in known about the impact of human activities on their populations. Slash and burn agriculture, deforestation, and mining (nickel, cobalt and chromium), as well as the introduction of non-native species are all believed to be threats to crested geckos and they are classified by The IUCN Red List as "Vulnerable", with a downward population trend. The primary indigenous conservation organization on New Caledonia, the Association pour la Savvegarde de la Nature NėoCalėdonienne (ASNNC) is currently working with the government to protect more land and habitat and raise awareness about the reptilian fauna of the islands. The other organization working to protect this environment is the Center of Initiation of the New Caledonia Environment. The hope is that laws will eventually be passed to protect the terrestrial reptilian fauna there. (Bauer and Sadlier, 1993; Gamble, et al., 2008; Logan and Cole, 2001; Whitaker and Sadlier, 2011)

Other Comments

In 1866, Crested geckos were described by Alphone Guichenot. After this, the species was not observed again for over a century. In 1994 this species was rediscovered by Robert Seipp and Phillippe de Vosjoli. Upon being rediscovered, live specimens were collected for research and the pet trade. Today, crested geckos are becoming increasingly common in captivity. (Gamble, et al., 2008)

New Caledonia’s large diversity of climate, soils, and geography (especially topographical diversity) has resulted in a large array of biological variation. The genus Rhacodactylus contains five endemic New Caledonian species of gecko in addition to this one (R. auriculatus, R. chahoua, R. leachianus, R. sarasinorum, and R. trachyrhynchus). In addition to these closely related species, three species of Rhacodactylus exist outside of the island and are endemic to northern Australia. (Bauer and Sadlier, 1993; Logan and Cole, 2001)

Contributors

Kristin Brusso (author), Michigan Technological University, Amy Schrank (editor), Michigan Technological University, Jeremy Wright (editor), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Glossary

Australian

Living in Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, New Guinea and associated islands.

World Map

acoustic

uses sound to communicate

arboreal

Referring to an animal that lives in trees; tree-climbing.

carnivore

an animal that mainly eats meat

chemical

uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females

fertilization

union of egg and spermatozoan

frugivore

an animal that mainly eats fruit

herbivore

An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.

indeterminate growth

Animals with indeterminate growth continue to grow throughout their lives.

insectivore

An animal that eats mainly insects or spiders.

island endemic

animals that live only on an island or set of islands.

iteroparous

offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).

native range

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

nectarivore

an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers

nocturnal

active during the night

omnivore

an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals

oviparous

reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.

pet trade

the business of buying and selling animals for people to keep in their homes as pets.

polygynous

having more than one female as a mate at one time

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.

sexual

reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female

solitary

lives alone

sperm-storing

mature spermatozoa are stored by females following copulation. Male sperm storage also occurs, as sperm are retained in the male epididymes (in mammals) for a period that can, in some cases, extend over several weeks or more, but here we use the term to refer only to sperm storage by females.

tactile

uses touch to communicate

terrestrial

Living on the ground.

tropical

the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

vibrations

movements of a hard surface that are produced by animals as signals to others

visual

uses sight to communicate

year-round breeding

breeding takes place throughout the year

References

2013. "Crested Gecko" (On-line). Biotropics. Accessed February 27, 2013 at http://www.biotropics.com/englisch/html/rhacodactylus_ciliatus.html.

Andrewartha, S., N. Mitchell, P. Frappell. 2010. Does Incubation Temperature Fluctuation Influence Hatchling Phenotypes in Reptiles? A Test Using Parathenogenetic Geckos. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology, 83/4: 597-607.

Badger, D., J. Netherton. 2002. Lizards: A Natural History of Some Uncommon Creatures - Extraordinary Chameleons, Iguanas, Geckos, and more. St. Paul, Minnesota: MBI Publishing Company.

Bauer, A. 1998. Morphology of the Adhesive Tail Tips of Carphodactyline Geckos (Reptilia: Diplodactylidae). Journal of Morphology, 235: 41-58.

Bauer, A., R. Sadlier. 1993. Systematics, Biogeography, and Conservation of the Lizards of New Caledonia. Biodiversity Letters, 1: 107-122.

Boulenger, G. 1883. On the Geckos of New Caledonia. Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 51/1: 116-139.

Christian, K., G. Bedford. 1993. High Reproductive Expenditure Per Progeny in Geckos Relative to Other Lizards. Journal of Herpetology, 27/3: 351-354.

Cooper, T. 2000. Coorespondence Between Diet and Food Chemical Discriminations by Omnivorous Geckos (Rhacodactylus). Journal of Chemical Ecology, 26/3: 755-763.

De Vosjoli, P. 2003. Rhacodactylus: The Complete Guide to their Selection and care. Vista, California: Advanced Visions Inc..

Gamble, T. 2010. A Review of Sex Determining Mechanisms in Geckos (Gekkota: Squamata). Sexual Development, 4/1-2: 88-103. Accessed February 27, 2013 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2855288/.

Gamble, T., A. Bauer, T. Jackman, E. Greenbaum. 2008. Out of the Blue: A Novel, Trans-atlantic Clade of Geckos (gekkota, squamata). The Norweigian Acadeny of Science and Letters, 37/4: 355-366.

Jusufi, A., D. Goldman, S. Revzen, R. Full. 2008. Active Tails Enhance Arboreal Acrobatics in Geckos. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 105/11: 4215-4219.

Logan, L., G. Cole. 2001. New Caledonia. Footscray, Victoria, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd..

May, R. 2013. "Care Sheet: Rhacodactylus ciliatus" (On-line). D.D. Reptiles. Accessed February 27, 2013 at http://www.ddreptiles.net/caresheet_ciliatus.html.

McWilliams, D. 2005. Nutritional Research on Calcium Homeostasis in Lizards (with Recommendations). International Zoo Yearbook, 39/1: 69-77.

Modrý, D., M. Jirků, M. Veselý. 2004. Two new species of Isospora (Apicomplexa: Eimeriidae) from geckoes of the genus Rhacodactylus (Sauria: Gekkonidae) endemic to New Caledonia. Folia Parasitologica, 51: 283-286. Accessed February 27, 2013 at http://folia.paru.cas.cz/pdfs/51_4_283_Modry.pdf.

Pianka, E., S. Sweet. 2005. Integrative Biology of Sticky Feet in Geckos. BioEssays, 27/6: 647-652. Accessed April 13, 2012 at services.lib.mtu.edu:2982/doi/10.1002/bies.20237/pdf.

Roth, L., A. Kelber. 2004. Nocturnal Colour Vision in Geckos. Proceedings: Biological Sciences, 271/6: S485-S487.

Seipp, R., F. Henkel. 2000. Rhacodactylus-Biology, Natural History & Husbandry. Franfurt am Main, Germany: Edition Chimaira.

Underwood, G. 1951. Pupil Shape in Certain Geckos. Copeia, 1951/3: 211-212.

Valenzuela, N. 2004. Temperature-dependent Sex Determination. Reptilian Incubation: Environment and Behaviour, 1: 211-227.

Whitaker, A., R. Sadlier. 2011. "Rhacodactylus ciliatus" (On-line). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Accessed February 27, 2013 at http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/176173/0.