Published March 20, 2018. Updated January 4, 2024. Open access.

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Northern Turniptail Gecko (Thecadactylus rapicauda)

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Phyllodactylidae | Thecadactylus rapicauda

English common name: Northern Turniptail Gecko.

Spanish common names: Colabarril del norte, geco cola de nabo, escorpión tobobo.

Recognition: ♂♂ 21.2 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=12.5 cm. ♀♀ 21.1 cmMaximum distance from the snout to the tip of the tail. Snout–vent length=12.6 cm..1 Thecadactylus rapicauda is the largest gecko occurring west of the Andes in Ecuador. Additionally, it is the only one having webbed digits. These characteristics, coupled with the absence of moveable eyelids, the presence of a vertically elliptical pupil, and the small granular dorsal scales (Fig. 1), will readily differentiate this species from any other lizard in western Ecuador. The introduced gekkonids Hemidactylus frenatus and Hemidactylus mabouia are smaller in body size and have unwebbed fingers.1

Figure showing variation among individuals of Thecadactylus rapicauda

Figure 1: Individuals of Thecadactylus rapicauda: Centro Científico Río Palenque, Los Ríos province, Ecuador (); Canopy Tower, Panamá province, Panama ().

Natural history: Thecadactylus rapicauda is a nocturnal gecko that inhabits pristine to heavily disturbed rainforests, caves and human settlements.1,2 At night, especially from dusk until 1:00 am,3 Northern Turniptail Geckos are active on palm trees, branches, buttress roots, and tree trunks up to 40 m above the ground.1,4 In human settlements, they utilize walls and rooftops,4,5 usually close to electric lights.6 By day, they sit still on tree trunks and palm fronds or remain hidden in tree holes, arboreal bromeliads, decayed logs, palm leaf axils, and under bark.7,8 Interactions between individuals of T. rapicauda include producing guttural sounds, tremulous waving of the tail, and headlong territorial fights.4,8 Defense mechanisms include parachuting and shedding off the tail, which nevertheless grows back thicker than the original tail.4 The preferred hunting strategy is to ambush prey,9 which includes invertebrates such as beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, katydids, mantids, mites, snails, moths, roaches, spiders, and termites.79 There are recorded instances of predation on members of this species, including by snakes (Bothriechis schlegelii,10 Chironius exoletus,11 Leptophis nigromarginatus,12 and Siphlophis cervinus13) and monkeys.8 Clutches consist of a single egg, which is usually laid under the bark of trees.8,14

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Conservation: Least Concern Believed to be safe from extinction given current circumstances..15 Thecadactylus rapicauda is listed in this category because the species 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 believed to have been introduced into some Caribbean islands.16

Distribution: Thecadactylus rapicauda occurs from southern Mexico to northwestern Ecuador (Fig. 2) and northern Brazil. The species is also present in the majority of the Lesser Antilles.

Distribution of Thecadactylus rapicauda in Ecuador

Figure 2: Distribution of Thecadactylus rapicauda in Ecuador. See Appendix 1 for a complete list of the presence localities included in the map.

Etymology: The generic name Thecadactylus comes from the Greek words theke (=envelope) and daktylos (=finger),17 and refers to the skin-covered claws. The specific epithet rapicauda comes from the Latin words rapum (=turnip) and cauda (=tail),17 and refers to the turnip-shaped regenerated tail.

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Thecadactylus rapicauda is considered a locally common species in some areas. For example, these geckos are guaranteed sightings on buildings and other man-made structures at Centro Científico Río Palenque, Canandé Reserve, and Bosque Protector La Perla.

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

Click here to adopt a species.

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

Photographer: Jose VieiracAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Aguiar G (2024) Northern Turniptail Gecko (Thecadactylus rapicauda). In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from: DOI: 10.47051/OFTX9030

Literature cited:

  1. 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.
  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. 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. DOI: 10.1016/S2221-1691(11)60043-9
  6. Acosta-Cháves VJ, Solís-Miranda N, Barrio-Amorós CL (2015) Thecadactylus rapicauda: predation on large insects. Mesoamerican Herpetology 2: 197–199.
  7. Hoogmoed MS, Avila-Pires TCS (1991) Annotated checklist of the herpetofauna of Petit Saut, Sinnamary River, French Guiana. Zoologische Mededelingen 65: 53–88.
  8. Beebe W (1944) Field notes on the lizards of Kartabo, British Guiana, and Caripito, Venezuela. Part 1. Gekkonidae. Zoologica 29: 145–160.
  9. Cooper WE, Habegger JJ (2000) Lingual and biting responses to food chemicals by some eublepharid and gekkonid geckos. Journal of Herpetology 34: 360–368.
  10. Lindey SD, Sorrell GG (2004) Bothriechis schlegelii: predator/prey mass ratio, and diet. Herpetological Review 35: 272–273.
  11. Roberto IJ, Ramos Souza A (2020) Review of prey items recorded for snakes of the genus Chironius (Squamata, Colubridae), including the first record of Osteocephalus as prey. Herpetology Notes 13: 1–5.
  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. Almendáriz A (1987) Contribución al conocimiento de la herpetofauna centroriental Ecuatoriana. Revista Politécnica 12: 77–133.
  15. Avila-Pires TCS, Caicedo J, Chaves G, Cisneros-Heredia DF, Gutiérrez-Cárdenas P, Lamar W, Perez P, Porras LW, Rivas G, Solórzano A, Sunyer J, Wilson LD, Murphy J (2019) Thecadactylus rapicauda. The IUCN Red List of threatened species. Available from: DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-2.RLTS.T190508A1953988.en
  16. 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.
  17. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 882 pp.

Appendix 1: Locality data used to create the distribution map of Thecadactylus rapicauda in Ecuador (Fig. 2). Go to the section on symbols and abbreviations for a list of acronyms used.

ColombiaNariñoBosque del AcueductoPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoCabo ManglaresHiguera Rojas et al. 2021
ColombiaNariñoEl PalmichalPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoIsla del GalloPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
ColombiaNariñoMilagros–TeheranUPTC 2019; SiB Colombia
ColombiaNariñoRío MiraiNaturalist; photo examined
ColombiaNariñoUniversidad Nacional de Colombia, Sede NariñoPinto-Erazo et al. 2020
EcuadorEsmeraldasBilsa Biological ReserveOrtega-Andrade et al 2016
EcuadorEsmeraldasBosque Protector La PerlaPhoto by Plácido Palacios
EcuadorEsmeraldasCachabiUSNM 204292; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasCaimitoReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasCanandé Biological ReserveYanez-Muñoz et al 2004
EcuadorEsmeraldasCerro ZapalloiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasItapoa ReserveReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasLa PierinaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote QuijanoYanez-Muñoz 2005
EcuadorEsmeraldasLote SalvadoresReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorEsmeraldasPlaya de OroiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorEsmeraldasReserva MayrongaPazmiño-Otamendi & Torres-Carvajal 2018
EcuadorEsmeraldasRío DurangoZMB 17140; collection database
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan LorenzoUSNM 204293; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasSan Lorenzo, 14 km SE ofMCZ 147200; VertNet
EcuadorEsmeraldasTesoro EscondidoPhoto by Simon Maddock
EcuadorEsmeraldasZapallo GrandePazmiño-Otamendi & Torres-Carvajal 2018
EcuadorLos RíosCentro Científico Río PalenqueThis work; Fig. 1
EcuadorManabíBosque Seco Lalo LoorReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorManabíFinca TiguaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíNueva DeliciaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorManabíReserva Biológica Tito SantosAlmendáriz et al. 2012
EcuadorManabíReseva Jama CoaqueLynch et al. 2016
EcuadorPichinchaHostería Selva VirgenReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaPedro Vicente MaldonadoiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorPichinchaRancho SuamoxPhoto by Rafael Ferro
EcuadorPichinchaRío Silanche Wildlife SanctuaryReptiles of Ecuador book database
EcuadorPichinchaSanto Domingo, 3 km NE ofUSNM 285808; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca la EsperanzaUSNM 204294; VertNet
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca La FloreanaiNaturalist; photo examined
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasFinca VictoriaMHNG 1069.061; collection database
EcuadorSanto Domingo de los TsáchilasSanto Domingo, 9 km W ofCAS SUR 13265; VertNet