Spectacular new species discovered on remote Queensland island
A large gecko with a ‘beaky’ face, spindly legs, and a spiny tail has been discovered on a remote Queensland island.
James Cook University’s Dr Conrad Hoskin discovered the gecko on Scawfell Island, a rugged, boulder-strewn island about 50 km offshore from Mackay, in the waters of the Great Barrier Reef.
He said the gecko is perfectly camouflaged to the rocks on the uninhabited island, where it lives deep in piled-up boulders during the day and emerges at night.
Dr Hoskin discovered the gecko during a survey with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service & Partnerships. In a paper just out in the journal Zootaxa, it has been named the Scawfell Island Leaf-tailed Gecko (Phyllurus fimbriatus), with the species name referring to the fringe of spines around the leaf-shaped tail.
“It is incredible to still find large and spectacular new species in this day and age,” said Dr Hoskin. “The fact that this gecko remained undiscovered to science shows that there are still areas of Australia with hidden secrets.”
Brett Turnbull, Ranger in Charge of the Whitsundays region, was on the trip in which the species was discovered. “This is an exciting discovery, and an important one, because we base our management of these islands on their biodiversity values.
“Knowing which species occur where, and finding species restricted to single islands, informs our management of fire, invasive species and other threats,” said Mr Turnbull.
Dr Rhonda Melzer, Manager of the Ecological Assessment Unit in the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, said that more surveys were required to understand the biodiversity of Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef islands
“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.”
Dr Hoskin said it’s very hard to know how big the population is, but there are at least 30 individuals and more work needs to be done before scientists can say if the geckos are endangered or not.
“Some habitats on the island naturally burn, but the rocks are probably pretty good protection from fire. 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,” said Dr Hoskin.
The species is described in the paper:
Hoskin, C. J. (2023) A new species of Phyllurus leaf-tailed gecko (Lacertilia: Carphodactylidae) from Scawfell Island, mid-east Queensland, Australia. Zootaxa 5244: 233–243.
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