Dactylocnemis pacificus

Pacific gecko

Dactylocnemis pacificus
(Gray, 1842)

Dactylocnemis pacificus (Nick Harker)
Image attribution
Pacific geckos. © Nick Harker
Herpetofaunal category
NZ Geckos
Species complex
Conservation Status
At Risk - Relict
Previous scientific names
Hoplodactylus pacificus
Common names
Pacific gecko

Length: SVL up to 80mm, with the tail being longer than the body length

Weight: up to 13 grams

Description

A variable and often beautifully patterned species from northern New Zealand, which is notoriously nervous and fast-moving.

The dorsal (upper) surface is brown to olive green or grey with a wide variety of markings including blotches, stripes, chevrons, or bands. Some individuals have mustard yellow spots or blotches, especially across the nape of the neck. Occasionally individuals may also have pink or orange shading. The head may have a V–shaped marking between the eyes with a wide pale stripe stretching from one ear to the other. Ventral (lower) surfaces are usually uniform in colour. The mouth and tongue are pink mouth and eyes are brown. The snout to eye distance is greater than eye to ear. The rostral scales are in close contact with nostrils; 9-16 upper labial scales; 8-14 lower labial scales. The species have slender toes with extended pads which have 10-16 lamellae (thin membranous layers which help the gecko adhere to surfaces).

The markings on Pacific geckos will often be brighter and with greater contrast compared to Raukawa geckos (Woodworthia maculata) which may occupy the same habitat. Can also be differentiated from Raukawa geckos by the rostral scale being in broad contact with the nostril (versus separated). 

Life expectancy

Largely unknown, estimates for captive animals range from 15-20 years.

Distribution

Widespread through the North Island and offshore islands in the north, though seemingly absent from the south-eastern portion of the North Island.

Ecology and habitat

Pacific gecko are nervous in disposition and strictly nocturnal. Can occasionally be seen cryptically basking near retreats.

An arboreal and terrestrial species which are found in a variety of habitats including: forest, scrub, clay banks, rocky bluffs and outcrops. Will take refuge within creviced rock and clay banks, tree hollows, under loose bark, in dense ground vegetation (such as Gahnia spp.), and in epiphyte platforms (Astelia spp.) in mature forest canopies.

Social structure

A very timid and nervous species. Little is known about the social structure of Pacific gecko; although often found at high density on some island populations.

Breeding biology

Pacific gecko are ovoviviparous (give birth to live young), giving birth to one or two offspring on an annual basis in late summer.

Diet

Invertebrates, honey dew, and nectar.

Disease

Parasites of pacific gecko include: nematodes (Skrjabinodon poicilandri; Skrjabinodon sp.); tremadoes (Paradisomum pacificus), and protozoa (Haemogregarina sp.), as well as the external parasites Geckobia hoplodactyli and Ophionyssus sp.

Conservation strategy

Pacific gecko are classified as 'relict' with a population of > 20,000 mature individuals and a stable or increasing population (>10%). The species have secure island populations but are in decline on the mainland. As with all New Zealand species of gecko, threats include: mammalian predators, habitat alteration and destruction.

Interesting notes

Pacific geckos are members of the genus Dactylocnemis, a group of closely related species which are confined to the North Island of New Zealand, are regionally distributed (including several island-endemic species), and were once all considered as a single highly-variable species - Hoplodactylus pacificus. The Pacific gecko - being the earliest described species in the genus - retained the specific name pacificus.

References

Bull, P.C., & Whitaker, A.H. (1975). The amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. In G. Kuschel (Ed.). Biogeography and Ecology in New Zealand (pp. 231-276). The Hague: Junk.

Jewell, T. (2008). A photographic guide to reptiles and amphibians of New Zealand. Auckland: New Holland.

Hitchmough, R.A. (1997). A systematic review of the New Zealand Gekkonidae. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington.

Hitchmough, R.A., Barr, B., Lettink, M., Monks, J., Reardon, J., Tocher, M., van Winkel, D., Rolfe, J. (2016). Conservation status of New Zealand reptiles, 2015; New Zealand threat classification series 17. Wellington: New Zealand Department of Conservation.

Jewell, T. (2011). A photographic guide to reptiles and amphibians of New Zealand. Auckland: New Holland.

van Winkel, D., Baling, M. & Hitchmough, R. (2018). Reptiles and Amphibians of New Zealand: A field guide. Auckland: Auckland University Press, 376 pp.

Whitaker, A.H. (1987). The roles of lizards in New Zealand plant reproductive strategies. New Zealand Journal of Botany, 25, 2, 315-328.