Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Herp of the Day: Rhacodactylus auriculatus

Here's a cool gecko for you - the Gargoyle Gecko. This guy is the genus Rhacodactylus, an group of six awesome species restricted to the island of New Caledonia near Australia. All of the species are fairly large, charismatic, colorful, and consequently popular in captivity. Importation of wild-caught Rhacs stopped a while ago, but they do so well in captivity that captive-breeding has sustained the different species for many years.

Shawn has a big female Gargoyle named Darwin, until recently the only representative of her species that we have available for use in CHS education programs. The Gargoyle is a beefy gecko, with a round body very unlike the flat Hemidactylus featured recently and some other cool geckos coming up soon. Like the other rhacs they are arboreal and have several adaptations for it, including wide feet and a semi-prehensile tail, but this species tends more towards lower shrubbery habitats so they lack the more prominent adaptations of the other Rhac species (big webbed feet and the ability to flatten out while jumping).

The species comes in two distinct morphs - a mottled/banded base and a striped base pattern, and can vary considerable in color from whitish to brown to red to black and white, some with bright orange or red spots and stripes as additional pattern. For the most ridiculously awesome Gargoyles, see the gallery at Rhacos.com.

When Shawn got Darwin as a youngster she was mostly whitish with banding, and twin rows of orange spots down her back:

(next 2 photos by Shawn Billerman)

She has since grown into a portly adult. Her orange spots have all but faded away, but now she can turn a lovely shade of brown with some reddish mixed in. She is also great at demonstrating the variability in color that Gargoyles possess (certainly the best among Rhacs although R. ciliatus can give them a run). She is often nearly pure white while sleeping, darkening up to brown when she's running around at night. Here's a whole gallery of Darwin being Darwin:

(next 2 photos by Shawn Billerman)

If you look closely at some of her head shots, you can see the species' namesake - bony ridges and bumps along the top of their head behind the eyes. They aren't very pronounced in Darwin or in many individuals available in captivity because people tend to breed for color more than awesome head structure, but the bony knobs can be very prominent in wild individuals or some captive-bred individuals. For an example of better head structure, see here.

Darwin is no longer the only Gargoyle in the Cornell herp community. Recently our friend Amanda obtained a lovely male for breeding purposes, so by next year this place will be overrun with little gargoyles. Check out the male's awesome stripes:

(photos by Shawn Billerman)


  1. What wonderful colorations on both guys.

  2. Its so much creative and applicable.You have done really hard work on your discoveries.



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