Becky Crew is a Sydney-based science communicator with a love for weird and wonderful animals. From strange behaviours and special adaptations to newly discovered species and the researchers who find them, her topics celebrate how alien yet relatable so many of the creatures that live amongst us can be.
THERE'S SOMETHING so distinctly feline about the way it looks and moves, it’s been named the cat gecko.
And let’s just get the best part out right here: when it sleeps, it curls itself up with its tail wrapped around its feet, just like a real cat.
Cat geckos (Aeluroscalabotes felinus) are found all across South East Asia, and they keep to the rainforest undergrowth, where they hunt snails and insects for food. The females can grow up to 24 grams and 117 mm long, but the males will only grow to about 10 grams and 98 mm long.
They’re nocturnal and arboreal (tree-dwelling) - in fact, they’re the only arboreal species of gecko in the family Eublepharidae, which also includes the incredibly popular leopard gecko.
And weirdly enough, unlike most arboreal geckos, the cat gecko does not have adhesive setae (toe pads), to help it climb sheer surfaces. Instead it uses small, retractile claws to climb, almost like a cat, and a prehensile tail, which allows it to grip onto branches like a tiny monkey.
This unusual combination of features must suit the cat gecko just fine, because recent research has found evidence of microscopic, primitive setae up to 9 micrometres in length on its feet (1 micrometre is one-millionth of a metre). This suggests that even though they had the makings of adhesive toe pads, they followed a different evolutionary path to most other geckos.
You can see a cat gecko in action here, and note how it keeps its tail firmly coiled as it moves:
Not a whole lot is known about cat geckos in the wild, but speaking to Kurt (Guek Hock Ping), a nature photographer and guide for Orion Herp Adventure Travel who took the photo at the top of the page, he paints a picture of a slow moving, shy little creature, with a star-dotted galaxy in its eyes:
"I saw my first cat gecko about four years ago, and I’ve been in love with that species ever since. The prehensile fat-tail that curls up most of the times, the starry eyes, and shy demeanour - they are just incredibly cute! It is also the only species in its genus of Aeluroscalabotes."
"And unlike most other geckos, cat geckos are slow moving. Spotting cat geckos in the thick and dense forest of Malaysia can be quite a challenge, even if you scan carefully. However, they are extremely easy to get close to for the same reason. It’s getting harder to find one in the forest these days due to poaching activities, and no thanks to the pet trade."
If you wanted any more convincing that these guys are the cats of the lizard world, check out the sly expression on this one’s face: