Darwin's Leaf-toed Gecko

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Phyllodactylidae | Phyllodactylus darwini

Spanish common names: Geco de Darwin, salamanquesa de Darwin.

Recognition: ♂♂ 12.4 cm ♀♀ 18.3 cm. Geckos are easily distinguishable from other lizards by their nocturnal habits and vertical pupils. The Darwin's Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus darwini) is one of six (two native, four introduced) geckos occurring on San Cristóbal Island. Among these geckos, it is the only one having large protruding scales on both the dorsum and tail. The most similar species is the Coastal Leaf-toed Gecko (P. reissii), a larger gecko that lacks bulging scales on the tail.

Natural history: Common. Phyllodactylus darwini is a nocturnal and mostly terrestrial gecko inhabiting dry shrubland areas and, marginally, also human settlements.1,2 Darwin's Leaf-toed Geckos forage at ground level or on walls and rocky outcrops up to 6 m above the ground.1,3 During daytime, they seek refuge under lava blocks and beneath the bark of shrubs.2 In most of these microhabitats, this species lives side by side with the San Cristóbal Leaf-toed Gecko (P. leei). When threatened, individuals of P. darwini flee into crevices. If captured, they may shed the tail. Some individuals are preyed upon by housecats.3 Females of the Darwin's Leaf-toed Gecko lay 1–2 eggs per clutch.4

Conservation: Near Threatened.2 Phyllodactylus darwini is listed in this category because the species is facing the threat of displacement by introduced geckos in areas (currently only urban) where the latter have become invasive,4 as well as predation by housecats, and, therefore, may qualify for a threatened category in the near future if these threats are not addressed. However, there is no current information on the population trend of the Darwin's Leaf-toed Gecko to determine whether its numbers are declining.

Distribution: Endemic to an estimated 496 km2 area in San Cristóbal Island. Galápagos, Ecuador.

Distribution of Phyllodactylus darwini in Ecuador Distribution of Phyllodactylus darwini in San Cristóbal Island

Etymology: The generic name Phyllodactylus, which comes from the Greek words phyllon (meaning “leaf”) and daktylos (meaning “finger”),5 refers to the leaf-shaped fingers characteristic of this group of geckos. The specific epithet darwini honors Charles Darwin.6

See it in the wild: Individuals of Phyllodactylus darwini can be seen year-round with ~90% certainty on the outskirts of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno. The best time to look for the geckos is just after sunset, when they are actively foraging on rocky surfaces.

Authors: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Biodiversity Field Lab, Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Gabriela Aguiar.

Academic reviewers: Cruz Márquez.

Photographers: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador. and Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Aguiar G (2020) Phyllodactylus darwini. In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: www.reptilesofecuador.com

Literature cited:

  1. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  2. Márquez C, Yánez-Muñoz M, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2016) Phyllodactylus darwini. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from: www.iucnredlist.org
  3. Field notes of Tristan Schramer.
  4. Olmedo J, Cayot L (1994) Introduced geckos in the towns of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal and Isabela. Noticias de Galápagos 53: 7–12.
  5. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 882 pp.
  6. Taylor EH (1942) Some geckoes of the genus Phyllodactylus. The University of Kansas Science Bulletin 28: 91–112.