Master of camouflage: new gecko species found living among rocks on remote Queensland island

By Candice Marshall 6 March 2023
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The discovery of the species, previously unknown to science, shows there are “still areas of Australia with hidden secrets.”

Off the coast of Mackay, about 50km offshore in the waters of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef, sits Scawfell Island. Uninhibited by humans, the rugged remote island is covered in mounds of piled-up boulders.

It is within the cracks of these boulders that scientists recently made a remarkable discovery during a routine Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) & Partnership survey. 

“It is incredible to still find large and spectacular new species in this day and age,” says Dr Conrad Hoskin, who found the small reptile.

“The fact that this gecko remained undiscovered to science shows that there are still areas of Australia with hidden secrets.”

A Scawfell Island leaf-tailed gecko (Phyllurus fimbriatus). Image credit: Dr Conrad Hoskin

The gecko has been named the Scawfell Island leaf-tailed gecko (Phyllurus fimbriatus), referring to the fringe of spines around the leaf-shaped tail. It is also described as having a ‘beaky’ face and spindly legs.

Conrad says it is too soon to know exactly how big the species’ population is, but there are at least 30 individuals on Scawfell Island. It is also too soon to know if the geckos are endangered or not. 

“Some habitats on the island naturally burn, but the rocks are probably pretty good protection from fire,” says Conrad.

“Another potential threat is the invasive Asian house gecko and poachers – we know of at least two poaching events of a leaftail gecko near Townsville.”

The geckos camouflage perfectly into their rocky surroundings. Image credit: Dr Conrad Hoskin

Accompanying Conrad on the island at the time of discovery was QPWS Ranger in Charge of the Whitsundays region, Brett Turnbull. 

“This is an exciting discovery, and an important one, because we base our management of these islands on their biodiversity values,” explains Brett.

“Knowing which species occur where, and finding species restricted to single islands, informs our management of fire, invasive species and other threats.”

QPWS Ecological Assessment Unit manager, Dr Rhonda Melzer, adds:

“We know some islands well but this discovery highlights that some of our islands remain under-surveyed. We are working with researchers like Conrad, and QPWS staff, to better understand and conserve these islands.”

The species is described in the paper A new species of Phyllurus leaf-tailed gecko (Lacertilia: Carphodactylidae) from Scawfell Island, mid-east Queensland, Australia.

Related: Bizarre bedfellows: Gecko found living with possum family