A newly found species of gecko has an unusual ability to escape dangerous predators: it can literally jump out of its skin.
The species Geckolepis megalepis, which measures up to 2.8 inches from the tip of its snout to the base of its tail, is native to Madagascar. It is a member of a group of called fish-scale geckos that have scales larger than those seen in other known gecko species.
Analysis of three specimens caught in Ankarana Reserve showed that the creature is a new species based on its shape, size, distribution of scales, and features in the skeleton.
"Geckolepis megalepis is the first Geckolepis species to be described in 75 years (and it has been 123 years since the last currently recognised species was described)," researchers reported in PeerJ.
Bizarre Defense Mechanism Against Potential Dangers
Most known gecko species are characterized by small scales that lie flat against their body but fish-scale geckos have overlapping scales that are only partly attached to the skin. What makes the genus more unusual is the layer of the skin beneath the scales because this can tear away and grow back easily.
Researchers said there is good reason to believe that the features offer good escape strategy otherwise it would not have likely evolved.
"You would think they are somehow protective but really they are a decoy there for blocking the teeth or claws of whatever wants to eat them," study researcher Mark Scherz, a herpetologist at the Bavarian State Collection for Zoology in Munich, described the giant scales. "They get stuck in those jaws or claws and allow the gecko to escape naked and alive."
Unusually Large Scales
Each of the creature's scales can be as large as 0.2 inches, which is about 8 percent of its body length. Other studies and the new analysis have shown that fish-scale geckos have dense and highly mineralized scales.
The big scales make the gecko particularly adept at evading predators as their unusual size helps make removal easier.
Torn Scaly Covering Can Be Fully Regrown In Just A Few Weeks
The creature also has a special kind of cell known as myofibroblast in the deeper layers of its skin that is capable of contracting on contact, loosening the uppermost layer of the skin consist of subcutaneous fat tissue and scales so they can take off easily.
Researchers found that the denuded bodies of the geckos become shiny and pink where the scaly covering has ripped away but there are no blood and scarring.
Earlier studies of fish-scale geckos revealed that the scaly covering of the creature can be completely regrown in just a few weeks albeit growing the scales come at some metabolic cost to the animal. The regenerated scales are also almost indistinguishable from the original scales.
"This regeneration is, as far as we have been able to tell, scarless, and the resulting regenerated scales are indistinguishable from original ones," Scherz said.
"That is not the case of many other geckos, in which the regenerated scales have a distinctly different appearance to the original ones."