Detachable scales turn this gecko into an escape artist | Science News

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Introducing

Detachable scales turn this gecko into an escape artist

Newly discovered lizard leaves predators with a mouth full of the largest scales yet

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7:00am, March 17, 2017
Geckolepis megalepis before and after shedding scales

SLIP SLIDING AWAY  Geckolepis megalepis (left) lets go of its scales to elude enemies, exposing the pinkish tissue underneath (right).

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Large, detachable scales make a newly discovered species of gecko a tough catch. When a predator grabs hold, Madagascar’s Geckolepis megalepis strips down and slips away, looking more like slimy pink Silly Putty than a rugged lizard.

All species of Geckolepis geckos have tear-off scales that regrow within a few weeks, but G. megalepis boasts the largest. Some of its scales reach nearly 6 millimeters long. Mark Scherz, a herpetologist and taxonomist at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and colleagues describe the new species February 7 in PeerJ.

The hardness and density of the oversized scales may help the gecko to escape being dinner, Scherz says. Attacking animals probably get their claws or teeth stuck on the scales while G. megalepis contracts its muscles, loosening the connection between the scales and the translucent tissue underneath. The predator is left with a mouthful of armor, but no meat. “It’s almost ridiculous,” Scherz says, “how easy it is for these geckos to lose their scales.”

Citations

M. D. Scherz et al. Off the scale: a new species of fish-scale gecko (Squamata: Gekkonidae: Geckolepis) with exceptionally large scales. PeerJ. Published online February 7, 2017. doi: 10.7717/peerj.2955.

Further Reading

A. McDermott. Reptile scales share evolutionary origin with hair, feathers. Science News. Vol. 190, July 23, 2016, p. 13.

N. Akpan. Gecko adhesion takes electric turn. Science News. Vol. 186, August 9, 2014, p. 19.

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