Published October 10, 2019. Updated January 2, 2024. Open access. Peer-reviewed.

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Simpson’s Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus simpsoni)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Phyllodactylidae | Phyllodactylus simpsoni

English common name: Simpson’s Leaf-toed Gecko.

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

Recognition: ♂♂ 10 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. ♀♀ 9.6 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail..1 Phyllodactylus simpsoni is the only gecko in its area of distribution having barely expanded and blunt fingertips.1 The dorsal coloration is usually pale grayish brown with irregular dark blotches and scattered white tubercles (Fig. 1). It is also generally the only gecko wherever it occurs. Only in urban areas of Isabela Island has it been found living alongside four other gecko species (Hemidactylus frenatus, Lepidodactylus lugubris, P. reissii, and Gonatodes caudiscutatus), all of which having different fingertip shape. The similar P. andysabini occurs north of the distribution of P. simpsoni and usually has a throat densely stippled with dark brown pigment instead of immaculate as in P. simpsoni.1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Phyllodactylus simpsoni

Figure 1: Individuals of Phyllodactylus simpsoni from Puerto Villamil () and Tagus Cove (), Isabela Island, Galápagos, Ecuador. j=juvenile.

Natural history: Phyllodactylus simpsoni is a nocturnal and mostly terrestrial gecko that inhabits seasonally dry forests, dry shrublands, and dry grassland areas, but tends not to re-colonize still barren landscapes affected by volcanic eruptions.1 Simpson’s Leaf-toed Geckos forage at ground level or on rocks, lava blocks, tree trunks, fence posts, and walls of buildings up to 5 m above the ground.1 During the daytime, they remain hidden beneath rocks, old tortoise shells, the bark of trees, and old cactus stumps.1 Eggs have been found beneath rocks. There are recorded instances of predation on members of this species, including by mockingbirds, snakes (Pseudalsophis occidentalis),2 cats, and black rats.1

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Conservation: Near Threatened Not currently at risk of extinction, but requires some level of management to maintain healthy populations..1 Phyllodactylus simpsoni is listed in this category because the species is facing the threat of displacement by introduced geckos (Hemidactylus frenatus and P. reissii) in areas where the latter have become invasive (currently only in urban areas), 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. simpsoni to determine whether its numbers are declining.1

Distribution: Phyllodactylus simpsoni is endemic to the western Galápagos Islands, including central and southern Isabela, Fernandina, Cowley Islet, and Tortuga Islet (Fig. 2).

Distribution of Phyllodactylus simpsoni in Isabela Island

Figure 2: Distribution of Phyllodactylus simpsoni in Galápagos. The star corresponds to the type locality: Puerto Villamil. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Phyllodactylus comes from the Greek words phyllon (=leaf) and daktylos (=finger),3 and refers to the leaf-shaped fingers characteristic of this group of geckos. The specific name simpsoni honors Dr. Nigel Simpson for his long-standing and visionary leadership in conservation. Nigel is a founding board member of the Ecuadorian conservation organizations Fundación Jocotoco and Fundación Ecominga. His passion and strong support for protecting the whole range of biodiversity, from birds to orchids, frogs, and moths, has been pivotal for establishing the network of private reserves owned by both organizations. Nigel has dedicated his life to the conservation of some of the most threatened, yet most diverse places on Earth.1

See it in the wild: Phyllodactylus simpsoni can be seen year-round at a rate of about 1–5 individuals every two nights in the outskirts of Puerto Villamil. The best time to look for the geckos is just after sunset, when they are actively foraging on rocky surfaces.

Author: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewers: Miguel Vences,bAffiliation: Technische Universität Braunschweig, Braunschweig, Germany. Alex Pyron,cAffiliation: George Washington University, Washington, D.C., USA. and Claudia KochdAffiliation: Zoologisches Forschungsmuseum Alexander Koenig, Bonn, Germany.

Photographers: Jose VieiraeAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,fAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador. and Frank PichardoeAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A (2024) Simpson’s Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus simpsoni). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/GGFC5316

Literature cited:

  1. Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Tapia W, Carrión J, Guayasamin JM (2019) Two new species of leaf-toed geckos (Phyllodactylus) from Isabela Island, Galápagos Archipelago, Ecuador. In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Tapia W, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of the Galápagos: Life on the Enchanted Islands. Tropical Herping, Quito, 174–187.
  2. Ortiz-Catedral L, Christian E, Skirrow MJA, Rueda D, Sevilla C, Kumar K, Reyes EMR, Daltry JC (2019) Diet of six species of Galapagos terrestrial snakes (Pseudalsophis spp.) inferred from faecal samples. Herpetology Notes 12: 701–704.
  3. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 882 pp.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Phyllodactylus simpsoni in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used. Asterisk (*) indicates type locality.

EcuadorGalápagosBeach near the airportArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCabo DouglasArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCerro Azul, SW slopeiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosCinco CerrosArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCobos SettlementArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosCowley IslandArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosEastern belt of Alcedo at 1800 feetFritts and Fritts 1982
EcuadorGalápagosEastern belt of Alcedo at 400 feetFritts and Fritts 1982
EcuadorGalápagosIguana CoveArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosIsla TortugaArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosLa Cumbre VolcanoArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosMuro de las LágrimasiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosPlaya Tortuga NegraArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosPuerto Villamil*Arteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosPunta GarcíaArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosRim of Darwin VolcanoArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosSlopes of Darwin VolcanoFritts and Fritts 1982
EcuadorGalápagosSlopes of Sierra NegraFritts and Fritts 1982
EcuadorGalápagosSW corner of IsabelaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorGalápagosTagus CoveArteaga et al. 2019
EcuadorGalápagosTrail to AlcedoiNaturalist; photo examined