Scientists have identified a new gecko species that has the ability to walk out of its own skin to escape predators. The predator is left only with a mouthful of scales and flesh. The creature was discovered in the Tsingy cave formations of Madagascar. The research paper describing the new species was published Tuesday in the journal PeerJ.
It has the largest scales of any gecko species
There are many known lizard species that can abandon their tail when a predator grabs it. The new species has tearaway skin and large, fish-like scales that can be shed off upon encountering friction. The species, named Geckolepis megalepis, has the largest scales of any known gecko species. However, they won’t have to live without skin and scales for too long.
Their scales regenerate in just a few weeks without any scars. The regenerated scales are identical to the original ones, said Mark Scherz of the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and lead author of the study. Scientists said the fish-scale gecko’s skin is adopted to tearing. The large surface area of the scales relative to the connective tissue significantly increases their ability to detach.
Its skin is built to be torn away
Deeper layers of the creature’s skin have special cells known as myofibroblast that contract on contact. It allows the uppermost layer of the skin, the scales, and subcutaneous tissues to loosen up, causing the detachment. The gecko’s skin has evolved to be torn away. The creature does not even bleed when shedding the skin, said Mark Scherz.
Scientists said a remarkable thing about the gecko’s scales is that they are dense and quite “energetically costly to produce.” There are many other geckos that have the ability to lose their skin if grasped firmly. But the fish-scale geckos can do it actively even at the slightest touch. Also, in other species, the appearance of regenerated scales is different from the original ones.
Fish-scale gecko faces threats from deforestation
Since the creature releases its skin even at the slightest touch, scientists tried a variety of different strategies to catch, handle, and study the species. Eventually, they were able to lure the specimen into plastic bags, which proved effective. Gecko species are mostly identified based on scale patterns. But the specimen researchers captured had missing scales. So, they used CT scans to study its skeletal features.
Scherz said identifying a new species is not only about finding new life forms. It also plays a role in saving the endangered species. The fish-scale geckos face a threat from deforestation in Madagascar. Scientists believe that most Geckolepis species live in fragmented areas on the island.