This psychedelic-eyed gecko isn't what we thought it was

The newly identified gecko Strophurus spinula. (Image credit: Anders Zimny/Sadlier et al. 2023)

Researchers in Australia have discovered a new species of gecko with beautiful psychedelic eyes. The stunning lizards evaded detection for decades due to their similarities with a closely related species. 

The new species, called the lesser thorn-tailed gecko (Strophurus spinula), is about 2.4 inches (6.1 centimeters) long and has a dappled pattern of white and gray scales, which is also mimicked in its eyes. The camouflaged geckos live in woodland areas across the south of Western Australia, though researchers are unsure exactly how large the newfound gecko’s population is.

S. spinula is the 21st species to be identified in the genus Strophurus, all of which are endemic to Australia. They are collectively known as spiny-tailed geckos because they have small spines on their tails and occasionally above their eyes.

S. spinula was thought to be part of the closely related species S. assimilis, also known as the Goldfields spiny-tailed gecko. But in the new study, published in the journal Records of the Western Australian Museum, researchers conducted a widescale genetic analysis of the genus and discovered the new species.

Related: Desert geckos glow neon green in the moonlight, scientists discover 

A close-up shot of the new gecko's skin and eyes. (Image credit: Anders Zimny/Sadlier et al. 2023)

A closer examination of S. spinula showed the newfound species can be physically distinguished from S. assimilis and other spiny-tailed geckos by its unusually straight and unevenly spaced spines along its body and enlarged spines on its tail, researchers wrote in the paper.

The genetic analysis also revealed that despite looking most similar to S. assimilis, the new species is actually more closely related to the eastern spiny-tailed gecko (S. intermedius), the soft spiny-tailed gecko (S. spinigerus) and the Exmouth spiny-tailed gecko (S. rankini), the researchers wrote. 

S. spinula lives predominantly among mulga trees. (Image credit: Anders Zimny/Sadlier et al. 2023)

Like all other spiny-tailed geckos, S. spinula can secrete a harmless and foul-smelling chemical from glands near its tail to deter potentially predatory birds from landing in overhead shrubbery, where they normally attack from. 

S. spinula appears to prefer woodlands dominated by the mulga tree (Acacia aneura), which grows in extremely arid conditions. The researchers now want to find out why the new species prefers this habitat type.

Harry Baker
Senior Staff Writer

Harry is a U.K.-based senior staff writer at Live Science. He studied marine biology at the University of Exeter before training to become a journalist. He covers a wide range of topics including space exploration, planetary science, space weather, climate change, animal behavior, evolution and paleontology. His feature on the upcoming solar maximum was shortlisted in the "top scoop" category at the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Awards for Excellence in 2023.