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Taxonomy of Cyrtodactylus in Australia Reptilia: Gekkonidae


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Posted by Richard Wells on February 28, 2002 at 04:29:38:

Hello all,
For those interested in the Family Gekkonidae I offer you my considerations regarding the genus Cyrtodactyus in Australia which were recently published in the AUSTRALIAN BIODIVERSITY RECORD, 2002 (No 3): 1-8 (February, 2002)

A copy of this article is attached below:

Kind Regards from


Richard Wells


Taxonomic Notes on the Genus Cyrtodactylus (Reptilia: Gekkonidae) in Australia.

by

Richard W. Wells
“Shiralee”, Major West Road, Cowra, New South Wales, Australia


Most authors other than Wells and Wellington (1984, 1985) have regarded the populations of Cyrtodactylus of north-eastern Australia as being conspecific with Cyrtodactylus lousiadensis of Papua New Guinea. However, in a major departure from this position, Wells and Wellington regarded the Australian taxon as being representative of an endemic species that was quite distinct from topotypic louisiadensis (see De Vis 1892 for the original description of louisiadensis). Accordingly, they resurrected from synonymy the hitherto unused name of Hoplodactylus tuberculatus of Lucas and Frost, 1900 which had been allocated to material originally collected from the Endeavour River, on southern Cape York Peninsula, Queensland. Another later synonym - Gymnodactylus olivii Garman, 1901 - should be regarded as a synonym of Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus for it was collected from the same population as tuberculatus. Although I herein maintain the usage of Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus for the Australian ‘population’, I have considered the morphological variation present within tuberculatus and have decided to formally name the isolated population on north-eastern Cape York Peninsula as a new species. I provide below a brief morphological and ecological overview of both taxa, and for completeness I also consider the only other Australian member of the genus Cyrtodactylus - Cyrtodactylus sadleiri Wells and Wellington, 1985. I should only add that although I have decided to take a conservative approach and follow Cogger and other’s use of the genus Cyrtodactylus for the Australian taxa, I do so with some reservations. I have decided to use Cyrtodactylus only to encourage others to consider a revision of the genus in toto. When one compares tuberculatus with sadleiri there is obviously a relationship between the two, but morphologically they are part of quite separate clusters of species. To my way of thinking the genus Cyrtodactylus must be regarded as polyphyletic given the vast divergences between some species groups, and its break-up is long overdue I think. Wells and Wellington even began this process with the establishment of a separate genus for the louisiadensis-complex - Quantasia Wells and Wellington, 1985 a genus that I am confident will be accepted eventually - but Quantasia has been largely ignored, and merely plunged into the synonymy of Cyrtodactylus. Cyrtodactylus it seems, is one of those sacred-cow genera that herpetologists are uncomfortable messing with because there are just too many species living across a vast area of the Earth - from south-eastern Europe, across Asia to Australia - and the available generic synonymy is substantial and not without its own problems.

Genus Cyrtodactylus Gray, 1827

Giant Banded Gecko
Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus (Lucas and Frost, 1900)

Diagnosis: Very large Gekkonid lizards with a solidly-built body-form, broad depressed head, and a long tapering tail that has enlarged subcaudal plates; body scales heterogenous; smooth and granular with scattered enlarged conical blunt tubercles; preanal pores present (20 plus); no enlarged sub-apical lamellae; slightly swollen subdigital lamellae in a single transverse series. The limbs are long and rather slender with distinctive bird-like digits with sharply angular claws. When at rest, the tail is held in a vertical curve. This species can attain a maximum body length of around 160 mm, plus a tail length of about 200 mm. The base body colour is variable, but usually pale whitish, pale brown or pinkish-brown, with the dorsal part of the head and the limbs are mottled with dark brown and the lips may be white or faintly mottled with brown. There is a distinctive white coloured lower lateral skinfold. There are approximately 6 dark purplish-brown or dark brown transverse bands on the body, that includes a large curved nape band. Each body band is dark-edged, and reaches the lower lateral area. The body tubercles are usually opposite in colour to the base colour, i.e. those in the paler interspaces are dark, while those within a band are whitish. The tail is distinctly ringed with 13 narrow white bands with black interspaces. Ventrally whitish to pinkish. As herein defined, this species is confined to north-east Queensland, occurring from about the Atherton Tablelands to the Cooktown district, on southern Cape York Peninsula. This species inhabits tropical dry sclerophyll forest, vine forest and tropical woodland, usually in rocky areas. It is nocturnal, terrestrial and arboreal in habits, most often observed actively foraging on rock faces, tree trunks and in leaf-litter on the ground. It feeds on a wide variety of small invertebrates, but has been known to eat other geckos and in captivity even baby mice. In the wild, males are strongly territorial and population numbers can be quite large in suitable areas. Of course, it is oviparous, producing only 2 eggs in a clutch, but nothing else is known about the reproductive biology of the species. The conservation status is unknown, but this species may be considered as potentially vulnerable due to its limited distribution and specialised habitat requirements. It is protected under the Qld Nature Conservation Act (1992). Etymology: The name 'tuberculatus' means in effect 'tubercles', and refers to the heterogenous nature of the body scalation.

Rainforest Banded Gecko
Cyrtodactylus abrae sp. nov.

Type Locality: Iron Range, Cape York Peninsula, Queensland.
Diagnosis: This is another very large gecko with a solidly-built body, broad depressed head, and a long tapering tail that has enlarged subcaudal plates. The limbs are long and rather slender with distinctive bird-like digits with sharply angular claws. When at rest, the tail is held in a horizontal curve. This rainforest-inhabiting species is easily separated from the woodland species Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus by way of its paler colouration and the lower number of bands. In Cyrtodactylus abrae there are only 4 body bands and 7 rings on the tail, whereas in C. tuberculatus there are usually 6 body bands and 13 tail rings. Each of the body bands are pale-edged in C. abrae (rather than dark-edged as in Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus) and fade out before reaching the ventrolateral of the body (unlike C. tuberculatus where the body bands reach all the way down the side of the body). Ventrally the body is whitish to pinkish. Further differences are apparent between Cyrtodactylus abrae and its congenor Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus with the top of the head and limbs being not mottled (i.e. uniform in colouration in C. abrae vs mottled in C. tuberculatus), and the tail being held in a horizontal curve when at rest (vs vertical in C. tuberculatus). The body scalation is very similar to C. tuberculatus in that it is also heterogenous, smooth and granular with scattered enlarged conical blunt tubercles. Preanal pores are present (less than 20), there are no enlarged sub-apical lamellae, and the slightly swollen subdigital lamellae are in a single transverse series. This species can attain a maximum body length of around 160 mm, plus a tail length of about 200 mm, making it fairly similar in maximum size to C. tuberculatus. The holotype is the largest specimen from the type locality in the Queensland Museum collection. As herein defined, Cyrtodactylus abrae is confined to north-east Queensland, occurring as an apparently isolated population in the mountain ranges near Princess Charlotte Bay of far northern Cape York Peninsula (the Type Locality is Iron Range, Qld). An inhabitant of lowland tropical rainforest, it is nocturnal, terrestrial and arboreal, most often observed actively foraging on tree trunks and other vegetation as well as in leaf-litter on the ground. As with its congenor, C. abrae likely feeds on a wide variety of small invertebrates and probably other geckos. Nothing is known about its reproductive biology, but it could be expected that 2 eggs are layed in a clutch. Its conservation status is unknown, but this species may be considered as potentially vulnerable due to its limited distribution and specialised habitat requirements. This species is protected under the Qld Nature Conservation Act (1992). Etymology: The specific name of this species, abrae, honours Ms Lyn Abra noted Australian naturalist of the Australian Reptile Park.

Christmas Island Gecko
Cyrtodactylus sadleiri Wells and Wellington, 1985

Diagnosis: Body scales heterogenous; preanal pores present (8-13); femoral pores present (18-30); preanal and femoral pores separated by up to 3 imperforate scales on each side. This is a large gecko with a solidly-built body, broad depressed head, and a long tapering tail. When at rest, the tail is held in a vertical curve. The limbs are long and rather slender with distinctive bird-like digits with angular claws and without obvious adhesive disks. It attains a maximum snout-vent length of around 80 mm, and a total length of about 180 mm. The base body colour is variable, but usually greyish, pale greenish-brown or brownish-black, with the dorsal part of the head and the limbs are mottled or flecked with dark brown. There is a dark brownish streak along the side of the head, running from the snout along the lower part of the eye and back to the ear. The eye is ringed with pale cream (ciliary scales). There is a distinctive pale coloured lower lateral skinfold. The body is marked with scattered light and dark coloured flecks and spots, which are loosely arranged in transverse rows of alternating light and dark obscure bands. The tail is distinctly ringed with a series of wide brownish bands, each of which is darkest about the midline, and between these bands the narrower interspace is whitish. Ventrally whitish to pinkish-purple. This species is known only from Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, where it mainly inhabits primary tropical rainforest. It has also recolonised some areas that have been subjected to past phosphate mining and have now regenerated to a secondary rainforest community or disclimax situation. Cyrtodactylus sadleiri is an arboreal, nocturnal species that lives among limestone pinnacles as well as on tree trunks. It is oviparous, producing only 2 eggs in a clutch, and its diet is believed to consist only of small invertebrates. It is protected under the Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act (1998). Etymology: The specific name sadleiri honours Dr R.M.S. Sadleir, noted mammalian physiologist from Western Australia.

Acknowledgments
I am indebted to the late Stan Stirling of Kuranda, the north Queensland naturalist who first introduced me in 1972 to his ‘Tiger Geckos’ as he was fond of calling them. Both Stan Stirling and Greg Churchill also readily provided me with information on the natural history and behaviour of the species (C. tuberculatus) in captivity and the wild. Additionally, Keith Martin and the late Peter Rankin accompanied me on an expedition to Cape York Peninsula nearly 30 years ago where some of my most enjoyable field work was undertaken collecting these giant Cyrtodactylus.

References

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Covacevich, J.A. and Couper, P.J. 1991 Atlas of Queensland's frogs, reptiles, birds and mammals. Part 1.2 The reptile records. [Pp. 45-140]. In: Ingram, G.J. and Raven, R.J. (Editors): Atlas of Queensland's frogs, reptiles, birds and mammals. Queensland Museum, Brisbane

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