Mokopirirakau kahutarae

Black-eyed gecko

Mokopirirakau kahutarae
(Whitaker, 1985)

Black-eyed gecko (Kaikōura). © Samuel Purdie
Image attribution
Black-eyed gecko (Kaikōura). © Samuel Purdie
Herpetofaunal category
NZ Geckos
Species complex
Conservation Status
Threatened - Nationally Vulnerable
Previous scientific names
Hoplodactylus kahutarae
Common names
Black-eyed gecko

Length: SVL up to 96mm, with the tail being equal to the body length

Weight: up to 15 grams

Description

A striking species of forest gecko with distinctive black eyes and an SVL up to 96 mm SVL (snout-vent-length). Dorsal surface grey or olive-grey, often with pale blotches, chevrons, or transverse bands, which run down the back and tail. These can be distinct or indistinct and are sometimes edged with black. Pale or dark speckles are sometimes present, but are typically not as distinct as those seen in the hura te ao gecko (Mokopirirakau galaxias). Lateral surfaces typically olive-grey, which transition to a pale grey toward the mid or lower portion of the lateral surfaces. The lateral surfaces are also sometimes speckled. Ventral surface pale grey-white and mostly uniform, sometimes with speckles. As the name implies, the eyes of black-eyed geckos are vivid black, whereas the recently-discovered hura te ao gecko (Mokopirirakau galaxias) possesses dark brown eyes. Additionally, the black-eyed gecko has more prominent brillar folds (eye hood) and supraciliaries (scales located above the eyes)(Knox et al. 2021). Mouth interior pale red or pink, with a pale pink, red, or orange tongue (van Winkel et al. 2018; Jewell 2008). 

Life expectancy

Unknown, however, estimates for captive animals of the Mokopirirakau genus range from 20-30 years (D. Keall, personal communication, September 21, 2016).

Distribution

Nelson-Marlborough and western Kaikoura. Known from both the Seaward Kaikōura Range and Inland Kaikōura Range, Nelson Lakes National Park, Mt Arthur, Matiri Range and, Lockett Range. It is probable that this species occurs elsewhere, such as North Canterbury, but is yet to be found (van Winkel et al. 2018; Jewell 2008).

Ecology and habitat

Black-eyed geckos are an astonishing species of gecko, capable of living in the harsh alpine zone, and must surely push the limits of reptile physiology. Live specimens have been found up to 2200 metres a.s.l and may exist even higher. Black-eyed geckos are primarily nocturnal, however, they are known to bask (usually in partial concealment) (van Winkel et al. 2018) and possibly feed during the day. Black-eyed geckos typically inhabit deeply creviced rock bluffs and tors, which likely provides safety from predators and stable temperatures throughout the winter. However, based off of increased knowledge about the habitat use of the ecologically similar (and phylogenetically related) hura te ao gecko (Mokopirirakau galaxias), it is possible that they inhabit alpine/subalpine boulderfield and tallus too (pers. comm. Samuel Purdie).  

Social structure

Black-eyed geckos are thought to be mostly solitary, however, it is possible that during the winter they share refugia.

Breeding biology

Largely unknown.

Diet

Small invertebrates such as spiders, beetles, wētā, and possibly the fruits/nectar of small subalpine plants.

Disease

Largely unknown.

Conservation

Black-eyed geckos are listed by Department of Conservation as 'nationally vulnerable' (Hitchmough et al. 2016). This species is not being actively managed, however, due to their cryptic ecology, persistence in the alpine/subalpine zone, and the availability of deep and narrow refugia, they are probably at not immediate risk of extinction. Nevertheless, periodical monitoring and surveys would be highly beneficial to monitor this species, particularly because mammalian predators are moving higher into the alpine with warming temperatures.

References

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

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

van Winkel, D., Baling, M., Hitchmough, R. 2018. Reptiles and amphibians of New Zealand – a field guide. Auckland university press, Auckland New Zealand.