Mokopirirakau galaxias

Hura te ao gecko

Mokopirirakau galaxias
(Knox, et al., 2021)

Hura te ao gecko (North Otago). <a href="https://www.instagram.com/samanimalman/">© Samuel Purdie</a>
Image attribution
Hura te ao gecko (North Otago). © Samuel Purdie
Herpetofaunal category
NZ Geckos
Species complex
Common names
Hura te ao gecko
Southern black-eyed gecko,
Otago black-eyed gecko.

Length: SVL At least up to 85 mm SVL

Weight: At least up to 9.7 g

Description

The Hura te ao gecko was discovered in 2018 in alpine greywacke rock outcrops in the Oteake Conservation Park, North Otago. Although somewhat similar to the black-eyed gecko (M. kahutarae), hura te ao geckos have a distinctive galaxy-like patterning of small white spots on the dorsal and lateral surfaces of the body and several other differences as described below. Genetic analyses using the mitochondrial ND2 gene indicate that hura te ao gecko is likely to be sister to a group containing both M. granulatus and M. kahutarae. Species status is justified by its apparent phylogenetic position as sister species to M. kahutarae plus M. granulatus, and multiple diagnostic morphological differences (Knox et al. 2021). It is characterised from all but one Mokopirirakau species by colour pattern alone, and from M. kahutarae by smaller adult body size, eye and eyebrow characters, mouth and throat colour, ventral scale row count, tail length, toe shape, and lamellar count (Knox et al. 2021). The type locality of hura te ao gecko is ~400 kilometres south of the nearest M. kahutarae populations in the upper South Island, although it is possible that either the hura te ao gecko or M. kahutarae may occur elsewhere in the South Island mountain ranges (Knox et al. 2021). Several new sites were found for hura te ao gecko in spring / summer 2020-21 and it is now known from six sites across two mountain ranges within Oteake Conservation Park (pers.comm Carey Knox).

Life expectancy

Unknown, but likely to be long-lived. Growth and reproductive rates likely to be low given extremely cold alpine habitat (pers.comm Carey Knox).

Distribution

Known from six sites across two mountain ranges within the 65,000-hectare Oteake Conservation Park. Thought to be an alpine specialist. Potential habitat for this species is present in several mountain ranges, particularly the Ida Range, Hawkdun Range, St Marys Range, Saint Bathans Range, and other mountain ranges with tor and boulderfield habitat in North Otago and the Mackenzie Country. Both M. kahutarae and hura te ao gecko are thought to be solely alpine in nature, however distributional limits and pre-human altitudinal limits of both are unknown. The ~400-kilometre distributional gap between them may at least partly be an artefact of poor sampling, particularly given the difficult access to many of their habitats. Suitably creviced rock exposures occur widely in the mountain ranges between their known distributions but are patchy in distribution (pers.comm Carey Knox).

Ecology and habitat

Fractured and deeply creviced greywacke outcrops, tors, bluffs, boulderfield, and talus slopes. Snow tussock (Chionochloa rigida) grassland is the predominant vegetation in the area, interrupted in places by greywacke rock outcrops, or varying amounts of rock talus, fellfield and/or scree (Knox et al. 2021).

Social structure

Unknown. Individuals appear to be solitary and aggregations of individuals have not been seen. There have been about 27 individuals sighted thus far, including a mixture of (mostly) adults, sub-adults, and three juveniles (pers.comm Carey Knox).

Breeding biology

Unknown, but unlikely to give birth annually given the high-altitude of known populations (pers.comm Carey Knox).

Diet

Unknown. Likely to be mostly insectivorous feeding on moths, spiders, weta, and other invertebrates that it co-exists with in it’s alpine tor or boulderfield habitat (pers.comm Carey Knox).

Disease

Unknown.

Conservation strategy

Should be considered “Threatened – Nationally Endangered” (qualifiers Data Poor) in the New Zealand Threat Classification System due to the low abundance and restricted known distribution, with potential threats from invasive predatory mammals, climate change, and poaching. If subsequent survey effort locates more populations, this status can be reassessed (pers.comm Carey Knox).

Interesting notes

Despite being very similar in appearance to the northern black-eyed gecko (M. kahutarae), the northern black-eyed gecko is more closely related to the forest gecko (M. granulatus) than the hura te ao gecko.

References

Knox, C., Hitchmough, R. A., Nielsen, S. V., Jewell, T., & Bell, T. (2021). A new, enigmatic species of black-eyed gecko (Reptilia: Diplodactylidae: Mokopirirakau/) from North Otago, New Zealand. Zootaxa4964(1), zootaxa-4964.