Northern Turniptail

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Phyllodactylidae | Thecadactylus rapicauda

Spanish common name: Colabarril del norte.

Recognition: ♂♂ 21.2 cm ♀♀ 21.1 cm. In Ecuador, Thecadactylus rapicauda is the largest gecko occurring west of the Andes. In this area, it is the only one having webbed digits. Hemidactylus frenatus and H. mabouia are smaller in body size and have unwebbed fingers.

Natural history: Common. Thecadactylus rapicauda is a nocturnal gecko inhabiting primary and secondary evergreen to deciduous lowland forests, caves1 and human settlements.2 At night, especially right after dusk until 01:00,3 the Northern Turniptail is active on palm trees, branches, buttress roots and tree trunks up to 40 m above the ground.4,5 In human settlements, T. rapicauda colonizes walls and rooftops4,6 usually close to electric lights.7 By day, it sits still on tree trunks, palm fronds or seeks refuge in tree holes, arboreal bromeliads, decayed logs, palm leaf axils and under bark.8,9 Interactions between individuals of T. rapicauda include guttural sounds, tremulous waving of the tail and headlong fights.4,9 As defense mechanisms, the Northern Turniptail is capable of parachuting, and shedding off its tail, which nevertheless grows back thicker than the original tail.4 If captured, this aggressive lizard can inflict a painful prolonged bite.2 Thecadactylus rapicauda is an ambush predator10 that feeds on a variety of invertebrates including beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, katydids, mantids, mites, snails, moths, roaches, spiders and termites.79 It also feeds on its own shed skin.5 The Northern Turniptail is preyed upon by Bothriechis schlegelii,11 Leptophis nigromarginatus,12 Siphlophis cervinus13 and monkeys.9 Females of this gecko lay one egg at a time under the bark of trees.9

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Conservation: Least Concern. We consider Thecadactylus rapicauda to be in this category following IUCN criteria14 because it is widely distributed, thrives in human-modified environments, and (presumably) is not undergoing population declines nor facing major immediate threats of extinction. Instead, T. rapicauda is suspected to have been introduced in some Caribbean islands.15

Distribution: From southern Mexico to northwestern Ecuador and northern Brazil. Also present in the majority of the Lesser Antilles.

Distribution of Thecadactylus rapicauda in continental Ecuador

Etymology: The generic name Thecadactylus, which comes from the Greek words theke (meaning “envelope”) and daktylos (meaning “finger”),16 refers to the skin-covered claws in this group of geckos. The specific epithet rapicauda, which comes from the Latin words rapum (meaning “turnip”) and cauda (meaning “tail”),16 refers to the turnip-shaped regenerated tail of this species.16

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Thecadactylus rapicauda can be seen with ~40–70% certainty wherever it occurs. One place to see this gecko is Reserva Canandé, Esmeraldas province.

Special thanks to Cheryl Vogt for symbolically adopting the Northern Turniptail and helping bring the Reptiles of Ecuador book project to life.

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

Photographers: Sebastián Di Doménico and Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,bAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Aguiar G (2020) Thecadactylus rapicauda. 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. Arenas-Moreno DM, Santos-Bibiano R, Arellano-Cárcamo YM, Brindis-Badillo DA, Charruau P (2017) First record of the Turniptail Gecko (Thecadactylus rapicauda Houttuyn, 1782) in Tabasco, Mexico. Mesoamerican Herpetology 4: 498–500.
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Howard KG, Parmerlee JS, Powell R (2001) Natural history of the edificarian geckos Hemidactylus mabouia, Thecadactylus rapicauda, and Sphaerodactylus sputator on Anguilla. Caribbean Journal of Science 37: 285–288.
  4. Vitt LJ, Zani PA (1997) Ecology of the nocturnal lizard Thecadactylus rapicauda (Sauria: Gekkonidae) in the Amazon region. Herpetologica 53: 165–179.
  5. Savage JM (2002) The amphibians and reptiles of Costa Rica, a herpetofauna between two continents, between two seas. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 934 pp.
  6. Reyes-Lugo M, Reyes-Contreras M, Salvi I, Gelves W, Avilán A, Llavaneras D, Navarrete LF, Cordero G, Sánchez EE, Rodríguez-Acosta A (2011) The association of Triatoma maculata (Ericsson 1848) with the gecko Thecadactylus rapicauda (Houttuyn 1782) (Reptilia: Squamata: Gekkonidae): a strategy of domiciliation of the Chagas disease peridomestic vector in Venezuela? Asian Pacific Journal of Tropical Biomedicine 1: 279–284.
  7. Acosta-Cháves VJ, Solís-Miranda N, Barrio-Amorós CL (2015) Thecadactylus rapicauda: predation on large insects. Mesoamerican Herpetology 2: 197–199.
  8. Hoogmoed MS, Avila-Pires TCS (1991) Annotated checklist of the herpetofauna of Petit Saut, Sinnamary River, French Guiana. Zoologische Mededelingen 65: 53–88.
  9. Beebe W (1944) Field notes on the lizards of Kartabo, British Guiana, and Caripito, Venezuela. Part 1. Gekkonidae. Zoologica 29: 145–160.
  10. Cooper, W.E. & Habegger, J.J. (2000) Lingual and biting responses to food chemicals by some eublepharid and gekkonid geckos. Journal of Herpetology 34: 360–368.
  11. Lindey SD, Sorrell GG (2004) Bothriechis schlegelii: predator/prey mass ratio, and diet. Herpetological Review 35: 272–273.
  12. Cunha OR, Nascimento FP (1994) Ofidios da Amazonia. As cobras da regiao leste do Para. Boletim do Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi 9: 1–191.
  13. Albuquerque NR, Galatti U, Di‐Bernardo M (2007) Diet and feeding behaviour of the Neotropical parrot snake (Leptophis ahaetulla) in northern Brazil. Journal of Natural History 41: 17–20.
  14. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  15. Banks RC, McDiarmid RW, Gardner AL, Starnes WC (2004) Checklist of vertebrates of the United States, the U.S. Territories, and Canada. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Washington D.C., 79 pp.
  16. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 882 pp.