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Thursday, January 14, 1999 Published at 13:08 GMT


Sci/Tech

Lucky lizard

The gecko has unusual toes

A student on her first ever field trip has discovered a species of lizard which is new to science. Julia Jones, who is a student at Cambridge University in the East of England, found the animal in New Caledonia, an island in the south-western pacific ocean.

The final-year ecology student went there as part of a project that allows young scientists from around the world to travel to pursue their conservation studies.


Julia recalls the moment she found the gecko
Julia's expedition took her to Mont Ignambi in the north-east of the island, an area rarely visited by biologists. She discovered the creature tucked deep into a crevice in the rocks.

"It was a gecko of the genus which is endemic to New Caledonia and it had a much bigger head and very strange toes," she told the BBC.


[ image:  ]
"So I was very excited and took it back to camp and looked through all the papers and sure enough it was definitely not described in any of the scientific papers I had."

After she had made the find, the remainder of the trip was spent trying to locate other individuals of the same species, but it proved to be a fruitless search. Indeed, she had difficulty finding any lizards.

The lack of these animals on the island was thought to be due to the cold weather - geckos like warm climates.

Official recognition

The grey-brown gecko is 16 cm in length from the snout to the tip of its tail and has a very distinctive toe structure. Herpetologists Ross Sadlier of the Australian Museum in Sydney, an expert on the reptiles of New Caledonia, has confirmed that the gecko is a newly discovered species in the Bavayia genus


The animal will not be named after the young scientist
The creature now needs a name but it will not be called after its young discoverer.

"Its really not the done thing in taxonomy to name a species after yourself," she said. "You either name it after someone eminent in the field, or in this case we want to name it with a word that means something about its ecology.

"We were hoping to name it after the local language name for mountain or high place - but that was a bit hard to pronounce, so we're planning to name it after the local word for gecko - madjo."


Julia Jones: Local people have great respect for the lizards
One reason why the lizard may have remained a secret for so long could be the feelings of the local people of New Caledonia towards these animals. There is quite a lot of superstition about the lizards, Julia said.

"I was once told by an elderly man that if I touched a lizard I'd fall pregnant and give birth to a lizard which obviously wouldn't be very nice."

Julia's field trip was sponsored by the petroleum company BP through its conservation programme. The scheme has been running for eight years and takes enthusiastic young scientists all over the world. It has so far supported over 100 research projects in 45 countries.



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