Hoplodactylus duvaucelii

Duvaucel's gecko

Hoplodactylus duvaucelii
(Duméril & Bibron, 1836)

Hoplodactylus duvaucelii Northern and Southern forms (Nick Harker)
Image attribution
Duvaucel's gecko Northern and Southern forms. © Nick Harker
Herpetofaunal category
NZ Geckos
Species complex
Conservation Status
At Risk - Relict
Common names
Duvaucel's gecko,
Giant gecko.

Length: SVL up to 165mm, with the tail being equal to or shorter than the body length

Weight: up to 118 grams


A physically robust species with a thick head, large trunk and tail. The largest of New Zealand’s geckos reaching up to 160mm in snout-to-vent length, and around 30cm in total. The back is olive brown to olive green with pale and irregular crossbar shaped splotches down the back, usually from the nape of the neck to the base of the tail. The underside is paler than the back, usually a pale uniform grey but can be softly blotched. Duvaucel’s gecko have a pink mouth and tongue. The forehead is slightly concave with yellow eyes and large oval openings for the ears.

Duvaucel’s gecko have a high number of lamellae on the feet with long toes (lamellae are a structure on the footpads which allow adhesion onto surfaces). Cloacal spurs (an outgrowth of bone and enlarged scales serving primarily as a grip during mating) are arranged in a series of 3-4, with pre-cloacal and femoral pores extending in a narrow series along the underside of the thighs.

There are significant genetic and morphological differences between the northern (Bay of Plenty northwards) and southern (Cook Strait) populations. These two populations are likely to be described as separate species in future: Animals from northern populations are generally larger (110-161mm SVL), more robust, have a proportionately longer snout, and less-defined markings. Individuals from the southern populations are generally smaller (95-120mm SVL), have a proportionately shorter snout, distinctive 'eyebrow' of scales above the eye, and well-defined blotched markings. Infralabial scales become gradually smaller in northern animals versus abruptly smaller after the 4th infralabial in southern animals. Brillar fold (hood of scales above the eye) is more pronounced in southern individuals.

Vocalisation of Duvaucel’s gecko has been variously described as squeaks, squeals, croaking and coughing.

Life expectancy

Duvaucel’s gecko are an extremely long lived species with ages of over 50 years reported.


Duvaucel’s gecko were once widespread throughout New Zealand as far south as Otago. Unfortunately due to the impact of human settlement and the introduction of predatory mammals, the species are now restricted to 36 offshore islands along the east coast and in the Cook Strait. They inhabit forests, bluffs, cliffs, and coastlines in lowland areas.

Distribution maps are simplified, predicted distributions based on a combination of known distribution data, historical distribution data, suitability of habitat, and known biogeographic patterns. In some cases, the potential distribution of a species may be very unlikely. However, due to the cryptic nature of some of New Zealand's herpetofauna, it should not be ruled out entirely. Only significant historical records outside the known range of each species are used. 

Ecology and habitat

A largely nocturnal species, Duvaucel’s gecko can remain active at low temperatures but actively regulate their body temperature by sun basking. During the day they tend to hide in tree hollows, under logs, stones or bark, rock crevices or petrel burrows.

Social structure

Duvaucel’s gecko are tolerant of members of the same species and form social groups of 2-8, groups usually contain only one male.

Breeding biology

Duvaucel’s gecko give birth to live young and have a low annual reproductive output. Gestation has been variously reported as between 5 months to longer than a year. Individuals become sexually mature at about 7 years old.


The diet of Duvaucel’s gecko is largely insectivorous, however, they will also eat plant material, nectar, and fruit. There are records of Duvaucel’s gecko predating upon other lizards and the eggs of shearwaters.


Duvaucel’s gecko harbour a number of ecto and endoparasites (internal and external). It is important to note that healthy reptiles can host a number of parasites with no observable adverse effects on the health of the animal, however, in certain cases parasitism can lead to vomiting, weight loss, tissue damage, secondary bacterial infection, or in serious cases anaemia or dysecdysis (difficulty sloughing skin).

Duvaucel’s gecko are at risk of metabolic bone disease (MBD) when held in captivity. It is crucial that animals in captivity have access to enough UV light and certain minerals (refer to our health and husbandry section for more information).

Conservation strategy

DOC (the NZ Department of Conservation) have classified Duvaucel’s gecko as ‘relict’, with a population of >20,000 mature individuals and a stable or increasing population (>10%). A number of translocation projects have already taken place to establish populations of Duvaucel’s gecko on pest free off shore islands and one mainland sanctuary. There is also a breed for release programme in place.

Interesting notes

The species were erroneously named after Alfred Duvaucel, a French naturalist who explored India. Museum specimens taken to London were credited to him, only later were the animals found to have come from New Zealand.


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McCann, C. (1955). The lizards of New Zealand. Dominion Museum Bulletin, 17, 1-127.

Scarsbrook, L. (2021). Does Size Matter? Using Osteology and Ancient DNA to Reconstruct Extinct Diversity in Duvaucel’s Gecko (Doctoral dissertation, University of Otago).

Scarsbrook, L., Sherratt, E., Hitchmough, R. A., & Rawlence, N. J. (2021). Skeletal variation in extant species enables systematic identification of New Zealand’s large, subfossil diplodactylids. BMC ecology and evolution21(1), 1-10.

Scarsbrook, L., Sherratt, E., Hitchmough, R., Fordyce, R. E., & Rawlence, N. J. (2021). Unexpected Morphological Diversity in New Zealand’s Large Diplodactylidae Geckos.

Towns, D. R., & Daugherty, C. H. (1994). Patterns of range contractions and extinctions in the New Zealand herpetofauna following human colonisation. New Zealand journal of zoology21(4), 325-339.

van Winkel, D. (2008). Efficiency of techniques for post-translocation monitoring of Duvaucel’s gecko (Hoplodactylus duvaucelii) and evidence of native avian predation on lizards. Unpublished master’s dissertation. Massey University: Auckland, New Zealand

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