Unravelling the secrets of the Pernatty Knob-tailed Gecko

Posted on Posted in Central Australia, scaly

A group of herpetological enthusiasts have been scouring the sand dunes of arid SA looking for, quite possibly the cutest creature to grace our continent. Let me introduce you to the Pernatty Knob-tailed Gecko (Nephrurus deleani).

Pernatty Knob-tailed Gecko (Photo by K. Jarman)

The ‘Outback Field Naturalists’ (a branch of Field Naturalist Society of SA) have been visiting suitable sites outside of the Pernatty’s known range, hoping to extend their recorded distribution. Their spotlighting and pitfall trapping efforts paid dividends last month when they found a couple of Pernatties at sites where they haven’t been recorded previously!

The Outback Field Naturalists celebrate success on their recent field trip (Photo by K. Jarman)

Amazingly, the Pernatty Knob-tail was only discovered in 1983 – how did we miss this guy!? It belongs to a group of Knob-tailed Geckos (genus Nephrurus) that are known for their big heads and ‘knobby’ tails. The Pernatties are another species with a restricted range, found in an area totalling about 500 km2 on sandy ‘islands’ surrounded by unsuitable habitat.

A fair bit of research has been done on the Pernatties since their discovery. They are featured in ecologist John Read’s book, documenting his work on the species in the 90’s. He ponders why the Pernatty’s range is like a pinprick compared with the extensive range of the very similar Smooth Knob-tailed Gecko (Nephrurus levis), which is found across the remainder of sandy inland Australia. They have the same habitat requirements but these two do not co-exist, and we’re not really sure why.

The restricted distribution of the Pernatty Knob-tailed Gecko (taken form Wilson & Swan 2003)

A possible clue to this conundrum is the size of their tails. The Smooth Knob-tail has a fatter tail (hence more fat reserves) whereas the Pernatty’s tail is more slender. Perhaps Pernatty’s can prosper in areas where food is more readily available but are out-competed in harsher conditions by their fat-tailed cousins. More research must be done to unravel the reasons behind this curious distributional puzzle.

Since they were only found 30 years ago we still don’t know total population numbers or full distribution. This recent work by the Outback Field Naturalists is field ecology at it’s best! Helping to build our knowledge and better understand the enigmatic (and devastatingly handsome) Pernatty Knob-tail.

For more info see the SAALNRM fact sheet

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