(Left to right): The new fish-scale gecko <i>Geckolepis megalepis</i>; close-up of a gecko missing scales
Frank Glaw, 2016

Read our COVID-19 research and news.

To escape predators, this gecko sheds something unusual: its skin

How do you escape a grabby predator? Many lizards shed their tails. But a newly described species of gecko (above left) has another trick up its scales: When grabbed, it can shed patches of skin and scales from most of its body, making it look more like a boneless, skinless chicken breast than a scaly beast. Geckolepis megalepis (Greek for “scaled gecko with very large scales”) is a kind of fish-scale gecko, a group of nocturnal lizards found only on Madagascar and the nearby Comoros Islands whose outsized scales overlap like those of a fish. So far, the new species has been found only in a small nature reserve in northern Madagascar. Besides being easy to shed, its scales are the largest of any gecko—the biggest measure more than 8% of the creature’s body length, the researchers report online today in PeerJ. Special cells in tissues below where the scales are attached (the thin white zones at the bases of the scales, above right) fully regenerate the overlying skin and new scales of approximately the same size and shape as the old ones in just a few weeks. And to all appearances, they do it without leaving a scar—a trick that could help doctors treating everyone from burn patients to skin cancer victims.