As night fell across the woodlands of Australia, a “slender” creature ventured into the darkness. Its “zigzag” scales helped it blend in with the shrubs and branches, but the camouflage wasn’t foolproof.
Passing scientists noticed the animal — and discovered a new species.
Researchers surveyed the woodlands of Queensland searching for reptiles, according to a study published Sept. 11 in the journal Zootaxa.
During their expeditions, one lizard “stood out due to (its) small size and often yellowish tail,” co-author Conrad Hoskin told McClatchy News in an email.
Researchers collected 15 of these lizards after finding them lurking on shrubs, plants and branches at night, the study said. Taking a closer look, they realized they’d discovered a new species: Amalosia capensis, or the Cape York zigzag gecko.
The Cape York zigzag gecko is considered “small,” reaching about 3.6 inches in size, the study said. It has a “slender” body, copper eyes and several “spurs” or “pointed” spikes near its thighs. Down its back is a “pale, dark-edged, zigzag” scale pattern.
A photo shows a Cape York zigzag gecko on a branch. It has a tan body and spiky lines down each side, forming a partially-aligned zigzag. The gecko’s tail has more of a yellow hue than the rest of its body.
The Cape York zigzag gecko is nocturnal and feeds on insects, the study said. It was commonly found on “low vegetation, but also on tree trunks, fallen logs and sticks.”
The new species was found in over 20 locations, all in the northern part of the Cape York peninsula, the study said. This peninsula in the state of Queensland is about 1,980 miles northwest of Sydney.
Researchers said they named the new species after the area where it lives.
The new species was identified based on its coloring, scale pattern, spurs and size, the study said. DNA analysis found the new species had a “high genetic divergence” from other zigzag geckos. Hoskin said the species had “at least 25%” genetic divergence.
The research team included Conrad Hoskin and Patrick Couper. Researchers also discovered four more new species of zigzag gecko: a “large” rock-dwelling gecko, a “large” woodland gecko, a mountain-dwelling gecko and a sap-licking gecko.
Zigzag geckos are an understudied group of lizards found “across eastern and northern Australia,” researchers said. The geckos are named after the distinctive zigzag pattern that runs down their backs.