Yes, like the decidedly less cute creatures on this list, the scorpion and spider, this little gecko doesn’t have a common name. So to avoid “wearing it out”, and for my own amusement, I’m going to call it “Bob”.
Sometimes Bob is hand-waved away as an “Atlas” or “Anti-Atlas day gecko”, depending on where it squiggles about in its native Morocco, but it shares this with its higher altitude look-alike of the equally catchy name Quedenfeldtia trachyblepharus. Bob is the slicker of the two with the brighter, yellower throat and more innocent-looking red-brown eyes, and as it turns out, there’s a lot of secrets behind them.
All’s fair in love and war
For instance, while it’s often found in pairs and small groups, seemingly chilled with company, there are times when Bob can’t resist a vicious brawl. The time to get down and dirty varies with altitude, but can be from March until July, and captive male Bobs have been seen fighting each other for land and lady Bobs in a cacophony of shrieks. It’s not all bark either: shedding a damaged tail can be the least of it, as some fights end in mortal injuries and death. So, er, Happy Valentine’s Day!
After the battle is won and the deed has been done, female Bobs lay about three clutches (up to six in captivity) of one to two eggs. These are sensibly hidden in rock crevices, and this is where everyone takes shelter in the hottest hours of the day. Not the same ones of course, because again, despite those innocent eyes, Bob has been known to snack on hatchlings as well as the usual bugs and insects. When the winter blues arrive, it snuggles in cracks or in underground burrows for a hibernatory snooze. That’s not the only sensible adaptation to its enemies or environment. When you live in the blazing desert, and up to 3,000m (9,842ft) above sea level no less, some built-in sunglasses would be of great help.
Shades of brilliance
The lenses in Bob’s eyes contain a protein called CRBPI. This is something only it and another small handful of gecko species have, and, if combined with vitamin A2, could act as a harmful UV filter.
Either someone appreciates its uniqueness, or we’re reminded yet again of the benefits of living in a desert hellscape, because there are no known threats to Bob.
Abhorred, adored or ignored?
Currently classed as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List, Bob’s considered a common sight in the Atlas Mountains, despite the fact that only 2% of its habitat lies in protected areas, and, as one of the few diurnal geckos, it’s a prime target for pretty much any hungry bird, rodent or other reptile in the desert.
For now at least, this little gecko seems safe. Maybe the key is looking cute and innocent, but being cold-blooded and red-eyed in case you need it! Or being so ignored you don’t even have a proper name.
Latin: Quedenfeldtia moerens, after the German naturalist Max Quedenfeldt
What? Small, diurnal desert gecko
Where? Western Morocco, in the Atlas and Anti-Atlas Mountains, usually on rock faces near water from 0-3,000m / 9,842ft above sea level. It might also be found in the western Sahara.
How big? Up to 12 cm / 4.7 inches long
Endangered? Nope, currently Least Concern and a common sight. Again, it pays to live in hot and/or inhospitable desert areas!
Probable motto: My eyes can be cute, cool and murderous all at once.
They look cute. Do they need my help at all?
Nope, currently listed as Least Concern, but if you want to help its habitat, the Global Diversity Foundation is looking to help plants and local livelihoods in the High Atlas here.
Just to prove I’m not fibbing:
Arnold, E.N. 1990. “The two species of Moroccan day-geckoes, Quedenfeldtia (Reptilia: Gekkonidae)“. Journal of Natural History 24(3):757-762.
Barata, Mafalda, et al. 2012. “Cryptic diversity within the Moroccan endemic day geckos: Quedenfeldtia (Squamata: Gekkonidae): a multidisciplinary approach using genetic, morphological and ecological data“. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 106:828-850.
de Pous, Philip, et al. 2011. “Area prioritization and performance evaluation of the conservation area network for the Moroccan herpetofauna: a preliminary assessment“. Biodiversity and Conservation 20:89-118.
dkane_nature. 2018. “Moroccan day gecko (Quedenfeldtia moerens)“. Deskgram.
Gamble, Tony, et al. 2015. “Into the light: diurnality has evolved multiple times in geckos“. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 115:896-910.
Herrero, David. 2014. “Quedenfeldtia moerens (Chabanaud, 1916)“. In: Martínez, G., León, R., Jiménez-Robles, O., González De la Vega, J. P., Gabari, V., Rebollo, B., Sánchez-Tójar, A., Fernández-Cardenete, J. R., Gállego, J. (Eds.). Moroccoherps. Amphibians and Reptiles of Morocco and Western Sahara.
Lyra, Mariana, et al. 2017. “The mitochondrial genomes of Atlas geckos (Quedenfeldtia): mitogenome assembly from transcriptomes and anchored hybrid enrichment datasets“. Mitochondrial DNA Part B>Resources 2(1):356-358.
“Quedenfeldtia moerens“. 2007. IUCN, Centre for Mediterranean Cooperation.
“Quedenfeldtia moerens“. No date. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
“Quedenfeldtia moerens (Chabanaud, 1916)“. No date. Reptile Database.
Featured image credit: “Quedenfeldtia moerens“, by Daniel Kane.