Cloudy geckos in the land of the long white cloud

Department of Conservation —  24/05/2018 — 1 Comment

New Zealand is full of weird, wonderful and way off the beaten track creatures. We’re lucky enough to get opportunities to go and discover more about these unique biological treasures. Senior Ranger Phil Melgren had one of these opportunities recently – a great gecko hunt…

Kundy Island, off the coast off Rakiura/Stewart Island, is among the remotest places in the country. So, it comes as no surprise that the critters who call this tiny offshore island home are a bit reclusive.

Approaching Kundy Island, south west of Rakiura. Photo: Phil Melgren.

Approaching Kundy Island, south west of Rakiura

Chief among these are the elusive cloudy geckos Mokopirirakau nebulosus. Never heard of them? Don’t worry; information on them can be as sparse as they are.

Saddleback/tīeke adorn the bush like ornaments on a Christmas tree ahead of the translocation. Photo: Phil Melgren.

Saddleback/tīeke ahead of the translocation

When Ngāi Tahu invited me to conduct a lizard survey during a saddleback/tīeke translocation in March, I jumped at the opportunity.

Kundy Island, also known as Kani in Māori, is part of a group of Tītī Islands that have remained rat free. It is one of the few known hangouts of cloudy geckos; being the lizard enthusiast I am I knew this could be my first real chance of spotting one in the wild.

Armed with pitfall traps, artificial covers, a spotlight and a healthy dose of enthusiasm, I joined the translocation team and headed south to begin the search.

Russel Trow (Kaitiaki of Kundy) Ros Cole (Senior Ranger Biodiversity, Murihiku) Pete McClelland (ex DOC, contractor) and Teressa Trow (Kaitiaki of Kundy) loading saddlebacks for translocation off Kundy island to nearby Tia Island.

Russel Trow (Kaitiaki of Kundy) Ros Cole (Senior Ranger Biodiversity, Murihiku) Pete McClelland (ex DOC, contractor) and Teressa Trow (Kaitiaki of Kundy) loading saddlebacks for translocation off Kundy island to nearby Tia Island

The most recent records of cloudy geckos indicate they’re normally up to 80 millimetres long, snout to vent. They’re also nocturnal, (aside from when they’re sunbathing which they’re reported to do from time to time) and to top it off they’re very good climbers. All great traits to have if you’re a reclusive gecko. Not so great, however, for curious rangers trying to spot them.

Nevertheless, I persevered. Think like a gecko. Be like a gecko. Find a gecko.

That perseverance paid off – during our time on the island I managed to spot not one, not two, not even three, but 11 cloudy geckos. The greatest gecko haul one could hope for. I managed to capture 10 of them for measuring and weighing before setting them free once more.

Longer than expected: the little-known species of gecko ended up being bigger than previously documented. Photo: Phil Melgren.

Longer than expected: the little-known species of gecko ended up being bigger than previously documented

Interestingly, these southern-most species of forest gecko had a few secrets up their sleeve. Of the eleven I came across, five were measured to be greater than 85 millimetres snout to vent – up to 5 millimetres longer than expected. This really highlights how little we know about some of our more secretive species.

The cloudy geckos were found by a tried and true method – spotlighting. All but one was found in the bush in older Oleria trees. The preferred habitat were older trees with craggy bark and holes in the trunk, providing refuges, and with plenty of vegetation around the base, usually in the form of ferns.

The seldom-seen cloudy gecko. Photo: Phil Melgren.

The seldom-seen cloudy gecko

In appearance, the cloudy geckos are a little, well… drab. But as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, safety is in the art of camouflage. The patterns were very moss or bark-like – similar to other forest geckos. Most were grey or brown, though two were a very moss green reminiscent of Takitimu and Tautuku forest geckos found on the mainland.

It was fantastic to join with Ngāi Tahu on this incredible expedition and help build our understanding of all the creatures we share this land with, one reclusive gecko at a time.

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  1. cloudy geckos in the land of the long white cloud | Waikanae Watch - May 24, 2018

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