Simpson's Leaf-toed Gecko

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Phyllodactylidae | Phyllodactylus simpsoni

English common names: Simpson’s Leaf-toed Gecko, Western Galápagos Leaf-toed Gecko.

Spanish common names: Geco de Simpson, salamanquesa de Simpson, geco occidental de Galápagos.

Recognition: ♂♂ 10 cm ♀♀ 9.6 cm. Geckos are easily distinguishable from other lizards by their nocturnal habits and vertical pupils. The Simpson's Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus simpsoni) is the only gecko in its area of distribution having barely expanded and blunt fingertips (Fig. III). 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, 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.

Natural history: Locally common. Phyllodactylus simpsoni is a nocturnal and mostly terrestrial gecko inhabiting deciduous forests, dry shrublands, and dry grasslands where it forages at ground level or on rocks, tree trunks, fence posts, and walls of buildings up to 5 m above the ground.1 During the daytime, geckos of this species have been found beneath rocks, old tortoise shells, the bark of trees, and old cactus stumps. Eggs of P. simpsoni have been found beneath rocks. Simpson's Leaf-toed Geckos are preyed upon by native predators such as mockingbirds and Western Galápagos Racers (Pseudalsophis occidentalis),2 as well as by introduced species such as cats and black rats.

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Conservation: Near Threatened.1 Phyllodactylus simpsoni is listed in this category following IUCN criteria3 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.

Distribution: Phyllodactylus simpsoni is endemic to an estimated 1,219 km2 area on central and southern Isabela Island, as well as on Fernandina Island, Cowley Islet, and Tortuga Islet in Galápagos, Ecuador.

Distribution of Phyllodactylus simpsoni in Galápagos Distribution of Phyllodactylus simpsoni in western Galápagos

Etymology: The generic name Phyllodactylus, which comes from the Greek words phyllon (meaning “leaf”) and daktylos (meaning “finger”),4 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. We greatly appreciate his dedication to the conservation of some of the most threatened, yet most diverse places on Earth.

See it in the wild: Individuals of Phyllodactylus simpsoni can be seen year-round with ~50% certainty 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, Alex Pyron, and Claudia Koch.

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

How to cite? Arteaga A (2020) Phyllodactylus simpsoni. 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. 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. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  4. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 882 pp.