When Madagascar’s fish-scale geckos perceive a threat, they resort to an extremes to protect themselves – tearing out of their own skin.
The geckos have large, overlapping scales that flake off so easily that when a biologist in the late 1800’s tried collecting them with cotton and handling them carefully, few specimens were preserved with all scales intact.
However, researchers have now made a baffling discovery – the scales are actually a strong armour similar to a crocodile’s skin.
Fish-scale geckos (Geckolepis maculata) have large scales, large legs and are cream in color with black bands.
According to the IUCN, the species is widely distributed in Madagascar and thought to occur from northern to southeastern Madagascar including the offshore island of Nosy Be.
New research, published in the African Journal of Herpetology, found that osteoderms in fish-scale gecko scales are the same material that make up the tough scales and plates of crocodilians and aramadillos.
This led the researches to wonder: If these geckos have armor, why do they shed it?
‘The big question is why there are these conflicting defense strategies,’ said Daniel Paluh, the study’s lead author and a doctoral student at the Florida Museum of Natural History.
‘This gecko can actually drop its skin as a defense mechanism, but it also has these mineralizations – usually thought of as body armor – that it’s just leaving behind.’
However, Paluh says that the osteoderms might not necessarily serve as a defensive shield – they could contribute calcium for egg development in female geckos or even help regulate body temperature.