And New Zealand’s Largest Lizard is …
It’s the tuatara, isn’t it? Wrong. But you’d be forgiven in thinking so, because although the tuatara is very lizardy in appearance, it is in fact the sole member of the reptile order Sphenodontida. Yeah, I knew that too … ahem, thank you Google … So what is New Zealand’s largest lizard then? It’s the magnificent Ducauvel’s Gecko (Hoplodactylus duvaucelii).
This feisty little beasty can grow to around 320mm, head to tip of tail. OK, not so very large, but it is one of the largest geckos in the world.
The largest gecko in the world is the New Caledonian Giant Gecko
Finding Duvaucel’s Geckos on Mana Island
I was lucky enough too see and handle some of these creatures recently when I went to Mana Island (an island reserve off the west coast of New Zealand) with the Kapiti Coast Biodiversity Project to learn about lizards, their habitat, how to monitor them and most importantly, where to find them. It was an experience and a half. I wasn’t expecting to see so many lizards, geckos and skinks, all in their natural home environment. And to have the chance of handling these scaly wonders was a great privilege. The lizard that appealed to me out of all of them though was the Duvaucel’s Gecko. Maybe it was the their size or their saggy, scaly skin or their large eyes, I don’t know. But they certainly made an impression on me.
The Duvaucel’s Gecko was mistakenly named after Alfred Duvaucel, a French naturalist who spent much of his time in India. Later, it was discovered that the gecko came from New Zealand, but its name remained the same
We found the Duvaucel’s Geckos underneath flat rocks and pieces of driftwood on the coastline of the island. Our guide, a highly knowledgeable herpetologist from EcoGecko, knew the area where these geckos would be living, so we went there and foraged around, peeking hopefully under rocks and wood looking for lizards, exclaiming joyously when we found one. It takes two people to find a lizard, one to lift the rock or piece of wood, the other to crouch down, hands at the ready to gently but quickly grab any fleeing lizards. I say gently as lizards’ tails can be pulled off. It sounds awful, but it’s a natural defence mechanism whereby the lizard can let go of its tail if it gets caught by a predator (in this case us).
“The dropped tail will actually wiggle and twitch on the ground as though it were still attached to the body of the gecko. This tail loss and movement distracts the predator and allows the gecko to get away while the predator is left with just a tail.” –ExoticPets.about.com
Duvaucel’s Gecko Facts
What do they eat? – Grasshoppers, wetas, crickets, flies, cockroaches, moths (if they can catch them) and other insects and some fruit
What eats them? – Tuatara, birds of prey, rats, cats, stoats, cats
Do they make a noise? – Yes, a clicky, squeaky noise
Do they lay eggs? – No. They are ovoviviparous. They give birth to live young in the summer, nearly always twins
Do they all look the same? – No. They can be coloured in shades of greens, browns, yellows and greys
How long do they live? – 36+ years to as much as 50 years
Conservation of the Duvaucel’s Gecko
The Duvaucel’s Gecko only live on the off-shore islands in New Zealand where they thrive well as those islands have been cleared of mammals (rats in particular). But sadly they are believed to be extinct on the mainland where there are too many predators. 40 Duvaucel’s Geckos were translocated to Mana Island in 1998 and at the last count in 2012 there were 115 found. Which is really tremendous news.
The Duvaucel’s Gecko has a Threat Status of Relict meaning a small population stabilising after declining (but only on off-shore islands)
The Kapiti Coast Biodiversity Project that I’m volunteering with is trying to establish colonies of lizards on the mainland Kapiti Coast, north of Wellington. Not just the Duvaucel’s Gecko, but any and all lizards that should naturally be found in that location. This is going to involve a lot of trapping of mice and rats (the biggest problem for them by far) and a whole lot of luck and hard work. It could be a long shot, but if you ever get to see all the wonderful skinks and geckos sunning themselves or wiggling around under rocks and driftwood in their natural environment, then like me, you’ll think that anything is worth trying to get them reestablished on the mainland of NZ.