Southern Turniptail

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Phyllodactylidae | Thecadactylus solimoensis

Spanish common name: Colabarril del sur.

Recognition: ♂♂ 21.5 cm ♀♀ 21.7 cm. In Ecuador, Thecadactylus solimoensis is the largest gecko occurring east 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 solimoensis is a nocturnal gecko inhabiting primary and secondary evergreen lowland forests, plantations1 and human settlements.2 At night, it is active on logs,3 banana plants4 or on tree trunks up to 36 m above the ground.5,6 In human settlements, the Southern Turniptail colonizes walls and rooftops7 usually close to electric lights. By day, it seeks refuge in crevices, arboreal bromeliads8 and under bark.5 Interactions between individuals of T. solimoensis include guttural sounds,9 tremulous waving of the tail and headlong fights.9 When disturbed, the Southern Turniptail moves to the opposite side of tree trunks and flees into crevices.5 Other defense mechanisms include parachuting6 and shedding off the tail. The shedding of the tail implies losing a source of energy storage.9 However, when regenerated, the new tail is thicker than the original tail. If captured, T. solimoensis can inflict a painful prolonged bite.2 Thecadactylus solimoensis is an ambush predator5 that feeds on a variety of invertebrates incluiding roaches, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, beetles, ants, spiders, scorpions and snails.3,5,10,11 The Southern Turniptail is preyed upon by bats, snakes (including Oxybelis fulgidus) and owls.2,7,12 Females of this gecko lay one egg at a time3,9 under the bark of trees.5

Reader support helps us keep the Reptiles of Ecuador book 100% free.

Conservation: Least Concern. We consider Thecadactylus solimoensis to be in this category following IUCN criteria13 because it is widely distributed, thrives in human-modified environments, and (presumably) is not undergoing population declines nor facing major immediate threats of extinction.

Distribution: Western Amazon basin in Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

Distribution of Thecadactylus solimoensis in continental Ecuador

Etymology: The generic name Thecadactylus, which comes from the Greek words theke (meaning “envelope”) and daktylos (meaning “finger”),14 refers to the skin-covered claws in this group of geckos. The specific epithet solimoensis, refers to the Solimões River, which the headwaters of the Amazon River, and drains much of the area in which T. solimoensis occurs.14

See it in the wild: In Ecuador, Thecadactylus solimoensis can be seen with ~40–70% certainty wherever it occurs. An easy place to see this gecko is Yasuní National Park, Orellana province.

Special thanks to Billy Sveen for symbolically adopting the Southern Turniptail 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 Aguiar.

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

How to cite? Arteaga A, Aguiar G (2020) Thecadactylus solimoensis. 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. Whithworth A, Beirne C (2011) Reptiles of the Yachana reserve. Global Vision International, Exeter, 130 pp.
  2. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  3. Duellman WE (2005) Cusco Amazónico: The lives of amphibians and reptiles in an Amazonian rainforest. Comstock Publishing Associates, London, 433 pp.
  4. Duellman WE (1978) The biology of an equatorial herpetofauna in Amazonian Ecuador. Miscellaneous Publications of the Museum of Natural History University of Kansas 65: 1–352.
  5. Vitt LJ and De La Torre S (1996) A research guide to the lizards of Cuyabeno. Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador, Quito, 165 pp.
  6. Pianka ER, Vitt LJ (2003) Lizards: Windows to the evolution of diversity. University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 333 pp.
  7. Meede U (1984) Herpetologische studien uber Echsen (Sauria) in einem begrenzten gebiet des Tropischen Regenwaldes in Peru: morphologische kriterien, autokologie und zoogeographie. Arten-liste der Reptilien im untersuchungsgebiet. PhD thesis, Hamburg, Germany: Universitat Hamburg.
  8. McCracken SF, Forstner MRJ (2014) Herpetofaunal community of a high canopy tank bromeliad (Aechmea zebrina) in the Yasuní Biosphere Reserve of Amazonian Ecuador, with comments on the use of “arboreal” in the herpetological literature. Amphibian & Reptile Conservation 8: 65–75.
  9. Vitt LJ, Zani PA (1997) Ecology of the nocturnal lizard Thecadactylus rapicauda (Sauria: Gekkonidae) in the Amazon region. Herpetologica 53: 165–179.
  10. Jordán JC, Suárez JS, Sánchez L (2011) Notas sobre la ecología de Thecadactylus solimoensis (Squamata, Phyllodactylidae) de la Amazonía peruana. Revista Peruana de Biología 18: 257–260.
  11. Martins M (1991) The lizards of Balbina, Central Amazonia, Brazil: a qualitative analysis of resource utilization. Studies on Neotropical Fauna and Environment 26: 179–190.
  12. Daza JD, Price LB, Schalk CM, Bauer AM, Borman AR, Peterhans JK (2017) Predation on Southern Turnip-tailed geckos (Thecadactylus solimoensis) by a Spectacled Owl (Pulsatrix perspicillata). Cuadernos de Herpetología 31: 37–39.
  13. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  14. Bergmann PJ, Russell AP (2007) Systematics and biogeography of the widespread Neotropical gekkonid genus Thecadactylus (Squamata), with the description of a new cryptic species. Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society 149: 339–370.