Here’s the reptile! (It’s a gecko)

Earlier today I put up a tw**t from Ollie Wearn that had this picture in it. Your job was to find the reptile. Did you? Here it is:

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And enlargements from Ollie’s recent tweet:

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Yes, folks, it’s a leaf-tailed gecko in the genus Uroplatus, and one cryptic mother! Members of this genus are some of the most remarkable mimics I’ve seen; Wikipedia describes their camouflage:

All Uroplatus species have highly cryptic colouration, which acts as camouflage, most being grayish-brown to black or greenish-brown with various markings resembling tree bark. There are two variations of this camouflage: leaf form, and bark form. The leaf form is present in only four described species, U. phantasticus, U. ebenaui, U. finiavana, and U. malama, which are also the smallest species. All other forms blend in well with tree bark upon which they rest during the day. Some of these tree bark forms have developed a flap of skin, running the length of the body, known as a “dermal flap”, which they lay against the tree during the day, scattering shadows, and making their outline practically invisible.

Here’s a bark form–really hard to see! Note the dermal flap (if you can see it):

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And another. This species is a remarkable mimic:

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And, just for fun, here’s the satanic leaf-tailed gecko, with the lovely name Uroplatus phantasticus, from Madagascar. It seems to occur in a variety of forms and colors, which makes me wonder whether it’s a single variable species or several species that are undescribed:

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Here’s a video showing several species of the genus:

As the old saying goes, “Natural selection is cleverer than you are.”

28 Comments

  1. Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    I haven’t forgotten about your points. Trying to finish exam #5 and then will get to individual adjustments.

    JAC: REST REDACTED; clearly a note sent to a student by a professor

  2. John Harshman
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink

    I guessed it would probably be a leaf-tailed gecko of some sort, and I knew that if so it would probably be somewhere on the trunk of that tree. But try as I might, I couldn’t see it. I can’t even see it in the circled area above, and I can’t see the one labeled “and another” either.

  3. Posted December 8, 2016 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Amazing.

  4. GBJames
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    That was the toughest one yet. I still can’t see it without all that zooming in.

  5. Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

    I couldn’t see it even AFTER you posted the solution. One well camouflaged gecko!

  6. Melane
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Add me to the list: I still can’t see it! Amazing.

  7. Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Wish I could do this given our current zeitgeist.

  8. Scientifik
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

    Can anyone point me to a book or article explaining how these creatures have evolved those ultra-realistic camouflage features and shapes? I’m interested to learn what sort of genes let them pull this off and make them so much better camouflagers than other animals.

  9. Lars
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Spent days looking for these in the forest at Ranomafana, never saw a single one.

  10. Mark Sturtevant
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 2:12 pm | Permalink

    I swear the picture labelled “And another…” really seems to be a bit of tree trunk. I am unable to see it at all.

  11. Posted December 8, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    Excellent!

  12. rickflick
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    Ha! I knew where it was all along. Not.

  13. Posted December 8, 2016 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    The faux tree moss part of its camouflage is a nice touch.

  14. Darren Garrison
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    Legend has it that if someone discovers the hidden gecko, the gecko must grant him 15 percent off on his auto insurance.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

      15% or more!

  15. Roger
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    Okay I’m actually impressed madam or mister gecko.

  16. Mark R.
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    That is one neat gecko! I’m glad you supplied the close-ups because I still couldn’t see it when you circled it in red. Tough one!

  17. Rohit D
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

    Hi guys,

    Just like other poster, I am very intrigued about how these changes are brought by evolution. I can understand few gene changes may be color of skin, but to develop exactly similar pattern like that of a leaf including its fine lines and gecko green patches …it just baffles my mind. Any help will be hugely appreciated.

    • rickflick
      Posted December 8, 2016 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      Deep time.

      • Scientifik
        Posted December 9, 2016 at 6:44 am | Permalink

        There are other species of nocturnal lizards that have also spent some time on this planet, but they haven’t evolved such stunning camouflage. Would you say they just need more time?

        I would really like to learn more about these masters of camouflage.

        • rickflick
          Posted December 9, 2016 at 7:57 am | Permalink

          You’ve opened up a big topic hear. One that I’m unqualified to answer authoritatively. But I’ll venture this: evolution via natural selection works at different rates in different species primarily because a key element is the pressure of the environmental. If in a given species in a given environment, there is little pressure to change, there can be stability over long periods. In other cases strong pressure, such as predation, can cause rapid change and the creation of new species. Make sense?

          • Scientifik
            Posted December 9, 2016 at 9:14 am | Permalink

            It most certainly does, the pressures of the environment they inhabit must be part of the equation. I’m curious what specific pressures they are. And what type of genes respond to those pressures, is there anything inherent in the animals’ genome that gives them the camouflaging advantage?

            On a moral general level, I wonder how the process of developing these camouflaging adaptations transpired. What I have trouble picturing is how a tiny change in appearance (assuming that’s how the process looked) could have led to a survival advantage in the first place? I mean, it’s obvious that the camouflage in its present form carries such an advantage, but the animal had to start somewhere, and that must? have been an infinitesimal change.

            • Scientifik
              Posted December 9, 2016 at 9:23 am | Permalink

              EDIT: moral = more 😉

            • rickflick
              Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:48 am | Permalink

              Those are some complex questions. As far as incremental change, it would require that each small change be of some advantage. A small genetic change can make a big phenotype change, of course. A great example is the rodents studied in the south west which had two color phases. A dark color was more protective from predators against dark rock and the light phase helped against lighter sandy areas. This might well have been controlled by a very small genetic switch.
              Gradual change in the evolution of the eye, outlined by Darwin and discussed many times since is an indication of how the most complex end result can come from humble beginnings given enough time.
              You can imagine these geckos early on with some random patterning. As birds and mammals picked away at their population, some structure in the pattern found it’s way out of the jumble of genes affecting skin quality. I would imagine this could be mapped out using DNA analysis of populations which differ in the quality of their deceptions.

  18. Andrea Kenner
    Posted December 8, 2016 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

    Amazing little critters!

  19. Diane G.
    Posted December 9, 2016 at 1:52 am | Permalink

    Well, the original shot was a bit blurrier than the closer shots posted above…

    Love these guys!

  20. Posted December 9, 2016 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    Wow, tough one.

    I thought that was where it was, based on the profile of the tree trunk. But I still couldn’t SEE it!

    Wow!


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