Feb 7, 2017

This Gecko's Tear-Away Skin Helps It Escape the Jaws of Predators

One of the greatest escape artists in the animal kingdom has just been discovered: a gecko that, due to its tear-away skin, leaves would-be predators with a mouthful of gross, chewy scales as it makes a speedy getaway.

The new gecko, named Geckolepis megalepis and described in the journal PeerJ, has skin that is made up of unusually large scales. Consisting of keratin and bony calcium-rich components, the scales are at the heart of the gecko's defense system.

Birds, snakes and even other bigger geckos that try to eat Geckolepis often fail.

"A typical predator encounter might start with the predator trying to grasp the lizard in its jaws or claws, triggering the scale sloughing, which ideally lets the gecko escape denuded but alive," lead author Mark Scherz told Seeker.

Denuded Geckolepis megalepis.
"It then probably seeks a humid, safe place to hide while the scales regenerate, which happens in a few weeks," added Scherz, who is a doctoral student at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich and The Bavarian State Collection of Zoology.

Three-dimensional X-rays of the geckos, which are a type of lizard, enabled Scherz and his team to analyze Geckolepis' anatomy in detail, including its scales. Other geckos are able to lose their skin when predators grab them, but the newly discovered gecko can do this at the slightest touch.

In fact, when Scherz went to capture a few individuals for the study in Marojejy National Park of northeast Madagascar, it took him several, challenging tries.

The gecko would obviously rather not be bothered, especially as it is very costly for the lizard to regrow its scaly skin. But, as Sherz said, at least doing so "is much less costly than being eaten."

When the gecko heals up, it does so scar-free.

"The fact that the regeneration is, at least superficially, scar-less, gives us hope that some process in scale regeneration might have potential for implementation in scar-less healing in humans," Scherz said.

Read more at Discovery News

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