Gecko eludes foes with tearaway skin

GeckoImage copyright
F. Glaw

Image caption

Geckolepis megalepis can shed its scales with ease when attacked

A newly discovered species of gecko has tearaway skin that leaves predators with nothing but a mouthful of scales when attacked.

Many lizards can detach their tails when attacked, but fish-scale geckos have large scales that tear away with ease.

The new species is a master of this art, say scientists, having the largest scales of any known gecko.

The reptile, named Geckolepis megalepis, is described in PeerJ.

The skin of fish-scale geckos is specially adapted to tearing. The large scales are attached only by a relatively narrow region that tears with ease.

In addition, beneath the scales there is a pre-formed splitting zone within the skin itself.

Image copyright
F. Glaw

Image caption

When grasped by a predator, fish-scale geckos lose not just their scales but also the skin underneath

Although several other geckos are able to lose their skin like this if they are grasped firmly, fish-scale geckos are able to do so actively – and at the slightest touch.

They can also grow them back scar-free in a matter of weeks, while other geckos might take a long time to regenerate their scales.

But Geckolepis megalepis is remarkable for the huge size of its scales. The researchers hypothesise that larger scales tear more easily than smaller ones, because of their greater surface area relative to the attachment area, and larger friction surface.

“What’s really remarkable though is that these scales – which are really dense and may even be bony, and must be quite energetically costly to produce – and the skin beneath them tear away with such ease, and can be regenerated quickly and without a scar,” said lead author Mark Scherz, from the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich.

The new species was discovered in the Tsingy cave formations of northern Madagascar.