Mokopirirakau granulatus

Forest gecko

Mokopirirakau granulatus
(Gray, 1845)

Forest geckos from Auckland and South Island West Coast. <a href="">© Samuel Purdie</a> (above), <a href="">© Nick Harker</a> (below)
Image attribution
Forest geckos from Auckland and South Island West Coast. © Samuel Purdie (above), © Nick Harker (below)
Herpetofaunal category
NZ Geckos
Species complex
Conservation Status
At Risk - Declining
Common names
Forest gecko

Length: SVL up to 98mm, with the tail being longer than the body length

Weight: up to 16 grams


A widespread and variable gecko with intricate bark-like patterns. Forest geckos are one of the more commonly-encountered geckos in the upper North Island and north-western South Island, but are in decline over most of their range.

Their dorsal colouration varies from dark or reddish brown through to pale grey. The dorsal pattern consists of a series of black and white irregular transverse blotches. The head usually has a dark, thin, V shaped mark between the eyes. The belly is grey and heavily botched. Forest gecko are capable of rapid changes in the shade of their dorsal colouration. This may be for the purpose of thermoregulation (darker colours absorb heat gaster) to enhance their camouflage with the background (a dark brown animal taken from the leaf litter may become significantly paler, and grey, when placed on a pale branch). Lining of mouth is yellow to orange, tongue is pink, yellow or bright orange. Mouth is edged prominently with white scales. Eyes are grey, olive green, or brown, sometimes with a blue sheen. Soles of feet are yellow, toes have slightly expanded pads with 11-14 lamellae. Toes of northern animals are slightly shorter and broader than those from the South Island.

May be confused with Pacific geckos (Dactylocnemis pacificus) in the upper North Island. However, can be distinguished by the yellow (versus pink) mouth colour, and series of 'W' shaped markings along the dorsum versus the usually more blotched pattern in Pacific geckos.

Click here for information on how forest gecko differ in appearance from other species in the Mokopirirakau group.

Life expectancy

Estimates for captive animals range from 20-30 years (D. Keall, personal communication, September 21, 2016).


Northern North Island (excluding Aupouri Peninsula) to Taranaki and Bay of Plenty, and north-western South Island from Marlborough to Nelson, south to Westland. Present on larger islands: Great Barrier, Little Barrier, Waiheke. Also known from some islands in the Marlborough Sounds such as Maud Island, Nukuwaiata, Long Island and Blumine Island. 

Ecology and habitat

Forest gecko are generally nocturnal but will sun bask near retreats. However, forest gecko in the upper north island are often active during the day. An arboreal species which live in forest and scrub in leatherwood and shrub areas, as well as beech forest, mixed broadleaf, podocarp forest, and manuka scrub. The species has been recorded in high altitudes (up to 1400m). It has been found in windshorn shrubs and will often shelter beneath rocks.

Social structure and vocalisation

Mokopirirakau species are generally solitary. Vocalisation among Mokopirirakau can be described as chirrups or shrill squeals when stressed.

Breeding biology

Forest geckos usually mate in autumn or spring, and give birth to twins the following year in mid to late summer (February).


Forest geckos are omnivorous and their diet consists primarily of invertebrates such as flies, beetles, spiders and moths. They will often ‘sit and wait’ for invertebrates, however will actively forage for prey as well as soft berries and nectar from native flowers within their home range.


The nematode Skrjabinodon poicilandri has been recorded in forest gecko. Mites are a common parasite for Mokopirirakau.


Forest geckos are listed by DOC as 'At Risk - Declining'. The species has a large national population but is in chronic decline. Forest geckos are generally absent from small offshore islands and therefore most populations are subject to pressures of introduced pest predators and habitat loss.

Interesting Notes

 "Moko-piri-rakau" is the Maori name for forest gecko, and means 'lizards that clings to trees.'


Fischer, S, M. (2013). Conservation biology and wildlife management in New Zealand: endemic reptile species, urban avifauna, and wetland ecology. (Unpublished BSc honours dissertation). Massey University: Auckland, New Zealand.

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

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

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.

Nielsen, S.V., Bauer, A.M., Jackman, T.R., Hitchmough, R.A., & Daugherty, C.H. (2011). New Zealand geckos (Diplodactylidae): cryptic diversity in a post-Gondwanan lineage with trans-Tasman affinities. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution, 59, 1–2.

Soderstrom, P. (1977). Observations and questions. Moko October/November, 6

Robb, J. (1980). New Zealand amphibians and reptiles in colour. Auckland: William Collins Publishers Ltd.

Robb, J. (1986). New Zealand amphibians and reptiles. Auckland: Collins.

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