Pinzón Leaf-toed Gecko

Reptiles of Ecuador | Sauria | Phyllodactylidae | Phyllodactylus duncanensis

Spanish common name: Geco de Pinzón, salamanquesa de Pinzón.

Recognition: ♂♂ 7.6 cm ♀♀ 9.5 cm. Geckos are easily distinguishable from other lizards by their nocturnal habits and vertical pupils. The Pinzón Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus duncanensis) is the only gecko that occurs on Pinzón Island.

Natural history: Frequent along the coastline, but rare in the highlands. Phyllodactylus duncanensis is a nocturnal gecko that is most active just after sunset.1 Pinzón Leaf-toed Geckos are terrestrial, moving on soil and rocky outcrops in dry shrublands and dry grasslands.1 During the daytime, these geckos seek refuge under lava blocks.1 When threatened, individuals of P. duncanensis flee into crevices. If captured, they may shed the tail. Pinzón Leaf-toed Geckos are preyed upon by owls and by Pinzón Racers (Pseudalsophis slevini).1,2

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Conservation: Vulnerable. We consider Phyllodactylus duncanensis to be in this category following IUCN criteria3 because the species is restricted to an island of only 18 km2 and, thus, could be seriously affected by random unpredictable events (like droughts and introduced species) within a short time period. Pinzón Leaf-toed Geckos also faced predation by black rats for nearly 200 years.4 Black rats were eradicated from Pinzón in 2012 and now it is presumed that P. duncanensis does not face major immediate threats of extinction. Pinzón Island is fully protected by the Galápagos National Park.

Distribution: Phyllodactylus duncanensis is endemic to Pinzón Island in Galápagos, Ecuador. Pinzón is a small 18 km2 island with a maximum elevation of 458 m. The island is dominated by spiny shrubs and small trees, but lacks the two most prominent trees in Galápagos: the palo santo tree (Bursera graveolens) and the giant daisy tree (Scalesia).

Distribution of Phyllodactylus duncanensis in Ecuador Distribution of Phyllodactylus duncanensis in Pinzón Island

Etymology: The generic name Phyllodactylus, which comes from the Greek words phyllon (meaning “leaf”) and daktylos (meaning “finger”),5 refers to the leaf-shaped fingers characteristic of this group of geckos. The specific epithet duncanensis refers to Pinzón, previously known as Duncan Island.6 The island was originally named after Adam Duncan, a British admiral famous for defeating a Dutch fleet in 1797 during the French Revolutionary Wars, an action considered one of the most significant victories in naval history.7

See it in the wild: Pinzón Island is inaccessible to tourism. Researchers and members of the Galápagos National Park may visit the habitat of Phyllodactylus duncanensis, but only in the context of a scientific expedition or a conservation agenda.

Authors: Alejandro ArteagaaAffiliation: Khamai Foundation, Quito, Ecuador. and Juan M GuayasaminbAffiliation: Laboratorio de Biología Evolutiva, Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ), Quito, Ecuador.,cAffiliation: Galapagos Science Center, Galápagos, Ecuador.,dAffiliation: Centro de Investigación de la Biodiversidad y Cambio Climático, Universidad Tecnológica Indoamérica, Quito, Ecuador.

Academic reviewers: Cruz Márquez.

Photographers: Jose VieiraaAffiliation: Tropical Herping (TH), Quito, Ecuador.,eAffiliation: ExSitu, Quito, Ecuador.

How to cite? Arteaga A, Guayasamin JM (2020) Phyllodactylus duncanensis. In: Arteaga A, Bustamante L, Vieira J, Guayasamin JM (Eds) Reptiles of Ecuador: Life in the middle of the world. Available from:

Literature cited:

  1. Field notes, Reptiles of Ecuador book project.
  2. Washington Tapia, unpublished data.
  3. IUCN (2001) IUCN Red List categories and criteria: Version 3.1. IUCN Species Survival Commission, Gland and Cambridge, 30 pp.
  4. Clark DA (1981) Foraging patterns of black rats across a desert-montane forest gradient in the Galápagos Islands. Biotropica 13: 182–194.
  5. Brown RW (1956) Composition of scientific words. Smithsonian Books, Washington, 882 pp.
  6. Van Denburgh J (1912) Expedition of the California Academy of Sciences to the Galápagos Islands, 1905-1906. VI. The geckos of the Galápagos Archipelago. Proceedings of the California Academy of Sciences 1: 405–430.
  7. Laughton JK (1888) Duncan, Adam. In: Leslie S (Ed) Dictionary of national biography. Smith, Elder, and Co., London, 159–161.