CryptTOUS and LepiTODOS

Tme is flying by, everyday is an adventure, but unfortunately we don’t often encounter an internet connection that is fast enough to keep you posted! Yes that’s plural now, I am no longer Lonesome George, but Matt Fujita joined me from the States and our quest for Crypto’s has expanded to include Lepidodactylus as well. Lepidodactylus is a tiny, yet adorable, species of gecko that most interestingly include populations that can reproduce sexual or asexual. Sometimes even on the same island, amidst sexually reproducing populations, particular females are able to clone themselves (‘Parthenogenesis’) and reproduce genetically identical copies… Matt is interested in the genetic mechanisms that facilitate such unique ways of reproduction and thus has joined me to collect some individuals from the field! But before our Fellowship was formed, I visited the final island on my trip through the Austral archipelago, Rurutu. 

Rurutu is of equal size as the other islands in the Australs, but its geological history is very distinct! Islands in the Pacific can be distinguished by the ‘island-life-cycle’ state they are currently in, since islands that were not part of any continental land mass were all formed by volcanic activity and subsequently develop in a similar way. New islands are formed after volcanic eruption and virgin land eventually rises often high above the sea level. These so called high-islands are rapidly, in evolutionary terms, colonized by plants/birds and Cryptoblepharus and there you go, ‘Jurrasic Park Islands’ such as Moorea are there to be admired. However, after pressure recedes, such islands slowly sink back into the ocean until only an atoll remains as a presence of where once was a ‘High-island’. The atoll is basically the outer reef that formed around the island and which is constantly supplied with new layers by new generations of corals. This ultimately leads to ‘low islands’ where the coral reef and sand banks, in a circular shape, are the silent reminders of where once high rising islands. Rurutu is distinct from this traditional sequence of events, since while it was receding back into the ocean, volcanic activity pushed it back up and lifted it 50 to 100 meters upwards. So interestingly, the geological forms of Rurutu include really steep cliffs and part of the old reef can be actually seen 50 meters up in altitude from current sea level.
I was thus very much looking forward to visit Rurutu, but unfortunately the first few days of my visit, it was raining cats and dogs! There are a number of things you don’t wish for, when searching for lizards, rain and wind are definitely some of them! The third day however was fortunately blessed with weather decent enough for Crypto’s to come out en masse and challenge me for a little chase. I managed to collect a whole bunch of them and was incredibly pleased with the way it turned out. Unfortunately, with a great final day of collecting at an isolated beach, my time in the Austral’s came to an end. I have sincerely enjoyed this region and would definitely advise people to go put on their naughty shoes (that’s a Dutch expression that clearly does not work as well in English… meaning to go out of your comfort zone!) and visit this region. Most islands don’t receive more than a 1000 tourists a year, making it a unique opportunity to experience the real Polynesia and be away from tacky tourist resorts.

After meeting up with Fujita in Tahiti, we then flew to a new region of French Polynesia, the Tuamotus. The Tuamotus are a string of coral atolls, see description above, and thus are beautifully shaped in an o-ring with a lagoon interior and an ocean exterior. Our first stop was Rangiroa, a place particularly known for diving with sharks and less so for their presence of Cryptoblepharus or Lepidodactylus… But my oh my, as the title of this blog indicates, they were EVERYWHERE! From the moment I arrived, the Crypto’s literally came running towards me hoping to be sampled (ok. I took a bit of artistic freedom here to describe the situation, but you get my point!) and after a bit of searching I then saw one of the weirdest things of the trip yet. We initially couldn’t find the geckos that Matt was looking for, until we were searching at night and I took a stroll next to a wall that was adjacent to the water. And there they were, dozens of little geckoes, in the splash zone! Sometimes, they even dropped into the water and then swam back to the wall and clinged back on… Now, there are marine iguanas that live in the water, but I’ve never seen or heard about geckos that were able to swim and thrive in a more marine like environment. They are definitely not marine adapted, but they clearly did not seem to mind the salt water… Really cool to see and happily for Matt we were able to collect as many live lizards as he will likely need for his breeding experiments!

Nothing beats fieldwork and I feel very fortunate with the opportunity to chase lizards in this amazing part of the world! Even more so with good company! Matt turns out to be a Crypto magnet!