Galápagos Leaf-toed Gecko

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Phyllodactylidae | Phyllodactylus galapagensis

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

Recognition: ♂♂ 9.4 cm ♀♀ 9.2 cm. Geckos are easily distinguishable from other lizards by their nocturnal habits and vertical pupils. The Galápagos Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus galapagensis) is the only gecko within its area of distribution having narrow rounded, digital disks and a dorsal pattern with irregular dark brown to black blotches on a whitish background color. The most similar species occurring with the Galápagos Leaf-toed Gecko in Puerto Ayora and Baltra airport is the introduced Coastal Leaf-toed Gecko (P. reissii), a larger gecko having broad truncated digital disks and less contrasting dorsal coloration.

Natural history: Common to extremely common. Phyllodactylus galapagensis is a nocturnal and mostly terrestrial gecko inhabiting deciduous forests, dry shrubland, and dry grassland areas where it forages at ground level or on rocks, cacti, and trees up to 3 m above the ground.13 It also colonizes walls and roads in human settlements, although it is less common in these habitat as it is displaced by other species of geckos, including P. reissii, Hemidactylus frenatus, and Lepidodactylus lugubris.2,4 During daytime, Galápagos Leaf-toed Geckos seek refuge under lava blocks, rocks, old dead cacti, and tree bark.2 When threatened, individuals of P. galapagensis flee into crevices. If captured, they may shed the tail. Potential predators include housecats and rats.1,5

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Conservation: Near Threatened.2 Phyllodactylus galapagensis 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 P. galapagensis to determine whether its numbers are declining.

Special thanks to Lauren Livo, our official protector of the Galápagos Leaf-toed Gecko, for symbolically adopting this species and helping bring the Reptiles of Galápagos project to life.

Distribution: Endemic to an estimated 388 km2 area in Baltra, Santa Cruz, Seymour Norte, and adjacent islets of these islands (Caamaño, Daphne Major, Guy Fawkes, Plaza Norte, and Plaza Sur). Galápagos, Ecuador.

Distribution of Phyllodactylus galapagensis in Galápagos Distribution of Phyllodactylus galapagensis in and around Santa Cruz Island

Etymology: The generic name Phyllodactylus, which comes from the Greek words phyllon (meaning “leaf”) and daktylos (meaning “finger”),6 refers to the leaf-shaped fingers characteristic of this group of geckos. The specific epithet galapagensis is a reference to the Galápagos Islands.

See it in the wild: Individuals of Phyllodactylus galapagensis can be seen year-round with ~50% certainty on the outskirts of Puerto Ayora. The best time to look for them is just after sunset, when the geckos are actively foraging on rocky surfaces.

Authors: Alejandro Arteaga,aAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador. Gabriela Aguiar, and Juan M GuayasaminbAffiliation: Laboratorio de Biología Evolutiva, Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: Galapagos Science Center, Galápagos, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: Centro de Investigación de la Biodiversidad y Cambio Climático, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewers: Cruz Márquez.

Photographers: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador. and Frank PichardoaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

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

Literature cited:

  1. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  2. Márquez C, Yánez-Muñoz M, Cisneros-Heredia DF (2016) Phyllodactylus galapagensis. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from:
  3. Van Denburgh J (1912) Expedition of the California Academy of Sciences to the Galápagos Islands, 1905-1906. VI. The geckos of the Galápagos Archipelago. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 1: 405–430.
  4. Hoogmoed MS (1989) Introduced geckos in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz, with remarks on other areas. Noticias de Galápagos 47: 12–16.
  5. Clark DA (1981) Foraging patterns of black rats across a desert-montane forest gradient in the Galápagos Islands. Biotropica 13: 182–194.
  6. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 882 pp.