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Sexy or Freaky? This Gecko Gets Naked to Escape Predators

Feb 08, 2017 11:40 AM EST
Geckos are extremely hard to study because catching them is not easy.
(Photo : Carl Court/Getty Images)

A newly discovered gecko has a strange way of escaping death.

According to the research published this week in the journal PeerJ, the new species found in the limestone cliffs and caverns of northern Madagascar is called Geckolepis megalepis, one of a number of "fish-scale geckos" in the genus Geckolepis. While this skin-shredding technique has been done by geckos, the G. megalepi loses its scales rapidly and has the largest scales among any known gecko.

"One of the divergent lineages they identified was immediately obvious as a new species, because it had such massive scales. But to name it, we had to find additional reliable characteristics that distinguish it from the other species," Mark D. Scherz, lead author of the study, from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich in Germany said in a press release.

The team used Micro-CT (micro-computed tomography) to look for these features. This technology allowed them to scan the species skeletons and study its morphology without having to cut it. The procedure revealed key cranial features that distinguish it from other fish-scale geckos. They also concluded that because the new species has larger scales, it tends to tear more easily and quickly than others.

How does it exactly escape its predator?

"A typical predator encounter might start with the predator trying to grasp the lizard in its jaws or claws, triggering the scale sloughing, which ideally lets the gecko escape denuded but alive," Scher told Smithsonian Mag.

"It then probably seeks a humid, safe place to hide while the scales regenerate, which happens in a few weeks," Scherz adds.

Meanwhile, the regeneration process of geckos remains a mystery. Gizmodo notes that geckos are extremely hard to study because catching them is not easy. For this study, the group used plastic bags to catch the agile and quick species. The new species is the first new species of fish-scale geckos to be identified in 75 years. A genetic analysis in 2013 suggested there might be about 10 species, but only five have been recognized so far.

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