Loose scales save gecko

Science Illustrated - - BIOLOGY -

In the Ankarana Re­serve in north­ern Mada­gas­car, sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered a new gecko species, Geck­olepis megalepis. The an­i­mal dif­fers from its fish-scaled gecko rel­a­tives by hav­ing 6-mm-large, over­lap­ping scales lo­cated like roof tiles across its only 7- cm-long body. The scales are the key to a bril­liant trick, which the an­i­mal uses to es­cape a preda­tor. The scales are only loosely bound to the skin, so when the gecko is bit­ten, it shakes off the scales so quickly that the preda­tor is left with a mouth­ful of scales, whereas the naked gecko es­capes. The top skin layer falls off the an­i­mal along with the scales, but both skin and scales grow back again in a mat­ter of a few weeks.

The trick saves the gecko’s life, but it is not cost-free for the host. The scales in­clude lots of min­er­als, the re­pro­duc­tion of which re­quires ma­jor quan­ti­ties of en­ergy. Con­se­quently, sci­en­tists won­der if it only takes a light touch for the gecko to shed its cladding – which has caused sci­en­tists prob­lems, when they have tried to cap­ture the gecko to study it.

When the gecko has shed its scales, it must wait, un­til the scales grow back again af­ter a few weeks.

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