San Cristóbal Leaf-toed Gecko

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Phyllodactylidae | Phyllodactylus leei

Spanish common names: Geco de San Cristóbal, salamanquesa de San Cristóbal.

Recognition: ♂♂ 7.7 cm ♀♀ 8.6 cm. Geckos are easily distinguishable from other lizards by their nocturnal habits and vertical pupils. The San Cristóbal Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus leei) is one of six (two native, four introduced) geckos occurring on San Cristóbal Island. From them, it is the only one having rounded digital disks and a dorsum lacking large protruding scales. The most similar co-occurring species are P. darwini and P. reissii, which are larger in body size and have bulging dorsal scales.

Natural history: Common. Phyllodactylus leei is a nocturnal and mostly terrestrial gecko that moves on rocky outcrops and vegetation up to 0.5 m above the ground in dry shrubland areas, and on walls and concrete surfaces in human settlements.14 During daytime, San Cristóbal Leaf-toed Geckos seek refuge under stones and lava blocks, within crevices, and beneath the bark of trees.3 In most of these microhabitats, this species lives side by side with the Darwin's Leaf-toed Gecko (P. darwini). When threatened, individuals of P. leei wiggle their tails as a decoy to potential predators; under an attack, an individual may shed its tail as well as emit high-pitched sounds if captured.1,3 Individuals of Phyllodactylus leei are preyed upon by Eastern Galápagos Racers (Pseudalsophis biserialis)1 and by housecats.2 Females of the San Cristóbal Leaf-toed Gecko lay eggs under lava blocks.3

Conservation: Near Threatened.4 Phyllodactylus leei 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 invasive5 as well as predation by housecats,2 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 San Cristóbal Leaf-toed Gecko to determine whether its numbers are declining.

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

Distribution of Phyllodactylus leei in Ecuador Distribution of Phyllodactylus leei in San Cristóbal 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 leei honors Prof. Leslie Lee, the naturalist of the expedition that led to the discovery of P. leei.7

See it in the wild: Individuals of Phyllodactylus leei can be seen year-round with ~60% certainty on the outskirts of Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, especially along the trail leading from the town to Playa Punta Carola. The best time to look for them is just after sunset, when the geckos are actively foraging on rocky surfaces.

Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Biodiversity Field Lab, Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewers: Cruz Márquez.

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2020) Phyllodactylus leei. 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. Field notes of Tristan Schramer and Yatin Kalki.
  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. Cisneros-Heredia DF, Márquez C (2016) Phyllodactylus leei. The IUCN red list of threatened species. Available from: www.iucnredlist.org
  5. Olmedo J, Cayot L (1994) Introduced geckos in the towns of Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal and Isabela. Noticias de Galápagos 53: 7–12.
  6. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 882 pp.
  7. Cope ED (1889) Scientific results of explorations by the U.S. Fish Commission steamer Albatros. III. Report on the batrachians and reptiles collected in 1887-88. Proceeding of the United States National Museum 12: 141–147.