Masters of Camouflage: Leaf-tailed Geckoes

There are many tactics that are used for survival in the animal kingdom. Some animals become incredibly fast, like the Cheetah or incredibly strong like the Gorilla. Some have evolved defensive structures such as horns, shells and thick skin. There is one strategy however, which involves deception… Camouflage is among the most interesting products of survival present in the animal kingdom. Some animals have evolved textures, colours and patterns that are so alike to their surroundings, they seem invisible until closer inspection.

 

In Australia many terrestrial fauna have developed bodies to match their surroundings. Emus look like bushes out on the savanna and Echidnas may be mistaken for a spiky small shrub. The true masters of camouflage in Australia lie in the less well known group of geckoes which go by the name of “leaf-tailed geckoes”. They get their name by the characteristic leaf shaped tail, which they can drop readily if they feel threatened, which gives them an opportunity to get away while their predator is distracted.

 

Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius swainii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius swainii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

There are in total 15 species of Leaf-tailed Geckoes, which are split between two genera, Phyllurus and Saltuarius. Each species of gecko in this genera have their own textures and colours which are dependent on what substrate they dwell on. For example, Moritz’s Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius moritzi) primarily use mossy rainforest tree trunks as habitat, and therefore usually have more of a greenish tinge which mossy, bark like textures and patterns in their skin and colouration. The Broad-tailed Gecko (Phyllurus platurus) on the other hand, primarily lives on sandstone rock outcrops and therefore has more sandy colours and textures present on their skin.

 

Moritz's Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius moritzi) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Moritz’s Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius moritzi) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Broad-tailed Gecko (Phyllurus platurus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Broad-tailed Gecko (Phyllurus platurus) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

As you can see, Leaf-tailed Geckoes are incredibly camouflaged and make it really hard for predators to find them. Leaf-tailed Geckoes are only active at night which adds another layer of difficulty for any potential predators. Usually when a predator is near by, they will remain in almost perfect stillness and hug closely to the substrate. Luckily for us it is a bit easier to locate them. All you need is a flash torch to look for their shadows on tree trunks and rock outcrops.

 

Granite Belt Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius wyberba) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Granite Belt Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius wyberba) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

You may have also noticed a few strange red dots on the geckoes in some of the above pictures. These are small reptile mites which attach to the geckoes. Most geckoes we have found seem healthy and unaffected by the mites despite being plagued with them.

 

Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius swainii) | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Southern Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius swainii) plagued by reptile mites | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

Out of all the species of Leaf-tailed Geckoes we have come across, the undisputed champion is the Granite Belt Leaf-tailed Gecko (Saltuarius wyberba). While trying to photograph them they would often run away and seem to disappear instantaneously among the granite rock outcrops. We shall leave you with these final photos of the Granite Belt Leaf-tailed Geckoes demonstrating camouflage mastery.

 

How many geckoes can you see in this picture? | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

How many geckoes can you see in this picture? | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Granite Belt Leaf-tailed Geckoes, the camouflage masters | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

Granite Belt Leaf-tailed Geckoes, the camouflage masters | Copyright Chad Beranek 2015

 

Can you see how many geckoes are in each photo above? Comment below if you think you know. The answer may surprise you!

These are just a few examples of camouflage from Australia. If you have taken a photo of a camouflage master from another continent please show us and post it on our facebook page!