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A Guide to the Amphibians
and Reptiles of California


Peninsula Leaf-toed Gecko - Phyllodactylus nocticolus

Dixon, 1964

(=Phyllodactylus xanti)
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Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Range Map
Red: Range in California


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Map with California County Names






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Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko
Adult, active at night, San Diego County
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko
Adult, active at night, San Diego County Adult, active at night, San Diego County Adult, active at night, San Diego County
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko
Adult, San Diego County Adult, active at night, San Diego County Adult, with re-generating tail,
Imperial County
Adult female, missing her tail,
Imperial County
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko
Adult, Imperial County © Stuart Young Adult, Imperial County © Stuart Young Adult, San Diego County © Grigory Heaton
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko
Adult, Imperial County © Stuart Young Adult from the Little San Bernardino Mountains population in Riverside County © Alyssa Worrell-Black Adult from the Little San Bernardino Mountains population in Riverside County © Robert Black Adult from the Little San Bernardino Mountains population in Riverside County © Robert Black
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko
Adult, San Diego County
© Jason Jones
Toes Toes Toes
Great Basin Collared Lizard      
Peninsular Leaf-toed Geckos have small granular dorsal scales that are interspersed with enlarged keeled tubercles.      
       
Juveniles
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko    
Juvenile, active at night,
San Diego County
Juvenile, Imperial County    
       
Peninsula Leaf-toed Geckos From Baja California
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko
Adult, Baja California Norte (found hiding under rock during daytime) Dark adult from dark lava rock habitat, Baja California Norte © Stuart Young
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko      
Dark adult from dark lava rock habitat, Baja California Norte © Stuart Young      
 
Habitat
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Habitat
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Habitat Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Habitat
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Habitat
Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, Imperial County Habitat, San Diego County
 Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Habitat  Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Habitat Mearns' Rock Lizard Habitat Mearns' Rock Lizard Habitat
Habitat, San Diego County Habitat, Imperial Coumty Habitat, Imperial County Habitat, Imperial County
 Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Habitat Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Habitat Mearns' Rock Lizard Habitat Mearns' Rock Lizard Habitat
Habitat, at night, Imperial County
© Stuart Young
Habitat, San Diego County Habitat in the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Riverside County
© Robert Black
Habitat in the Little San Bernardino Mountains, Riverside County
© Robert Black
       
Short Videos
Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko    
A leaf-toed gecko crawls around on a large rock outcrop at night. A huge gravid female leaf-toed gecko with no tail runs around on a big boulder at night.    
     
Description
 
Size
1 3/5 - 2 1/2 inches long from snout to vent (4.1 - 6.3 cm). (Stebbins 2003)

Appearance
A medium-sized gecko with large eyes without movable eyelids and vertical pupils.
Expanded toe pads that resemble leaves give this gecko its common name.
The toes have two large flat scales at their tips with a claw inbetween them.
Scales are small and granular with scattered enlarged keeled tuburcles.
The t ail is easily detached.
Males have enlarged preanal pores.
Color and Pattern
Color is a translucent gray, brown, or pink usually with dark brown blotches on the back.
The underside is pale and unmarked.

Life History and Behavior

Activity
Nocturnal, emerging shortly after dark.
Most active from March to October.
Probably remains inactive during cold of winter.
An excellent climber, rarely found away from rocks.
Defense
Squeaks when alarmed or captured.
May leap into the air to avoid capture.
Diet and Feeding
Stalks its prey of small invertebrates, which include termites, spiders, moths, flies, and ants.
Sometimes leaves rocks to forage on the ground, on trees, and buildings.
Reproduction
Breeds in April and May.
Females lay several clutches of 1 - 2 eggs from May to July.
Eggs are laid in crevices or under exfoliating bark. (Grismer 2002)
Eggs hatch from June to August.

Habitat
Lives among rocks in desert scrub and broken chaparral, hiding in cracks and crevices and under exfoliating slabs. Often found in canyons with massive boulders especially near springs and streams, but also found in rocky, non-riparian areas. Occasionally found under plant material.

Geographical Range
Occurs along the lower desert slopes of the peninsular ranges from near Palm Springs in Riverside County south throughout much of Baja California and Baja California Sur, including several islands in the Gulf of California.

Previously known only from the Peninsular Ranges on the southern side of the Coachella Valley, an isolated population was discovered in May 2018 on the northern side of the Coachella Valley in the Little San Bernardino Mountains, part of the Transverse Ranges. This location is 20 km (12.4 miles) farther north than the previous northern-most known location for the species, and north of a 5 - 15 km (3-9 mile) wide sandy area that was thought to have acted as a barrier to the northern dispersal of the species, which relies on rocky habitat. Genetic data have determined that the population is of natural origin and that it is distinct from lizards found in the Peninsular Ranges.

In his 2003 field guide, Stebbins reports that a single individual of P. nocticolus was found in 1997 on a bathroom wall at Cottonwood Springs, approximately 40 miles (64.4 km) to the east of this new population in the same mountain range. Stebbins suggests that it could have been a misidentified Mediterranean Gecko, but this new discovery along with the 1997 record suggests that the species might be found more extensively through the southern part of these mountains.

(Dustin A. Wood, Alyssa Worrel-Black, Robert Black, Anna Mitelberg, Mark Fisher, Robert N. Fisher, Amy G. Vandergast, and Cameron W. Barrows. Newly Documented Population Extends Geographic Range and Genetic Diversity for the Peninsula Leaf-toed Gecko (Phyllodactylus nocticolus) into the Transverse Ranges of Southern California. Herpetological Review 51(3), 2020).

Full Species Range Map
Elevational Range
Sea level to about 3,200 feet (1,000 meters) (Lizards of the American Southwest, 2009, and personal communication, 2019.)

Notes on Taxonomy
Only one species occurs in the U.S., P. nocticolus.
Phyllodactylus taxonomy has been controversial. Many species and subspecies have been recognized from Mexico, including island endemics. No subspecies are recognized in the taxonomy followed here, but there are other interpretaions, including one recognizing several subspecies from islands in the Sea of Cortez.

In 1993 P. nocticolus was described as a species distinct from P. xanti (Flores-Villela 1993 Carnegie Museum of Natural History Special Publication 17) This taxonomy has not been recognized by everyone, and this gecko is still sometimes called P. xanti. (2007)


Alternate and Previous Names (Synonyms)

Phyllodactylus xanti nocticolus - Peninsular Leaf-toed Gecko (Stebbins 1985, 2003)
Phyllodactylus xanti nocticolus - Leaf-toed Gecko (Stebbins 1966)
Phyllodactylus tuberculosus - Tuberculate Gecko (Stebbins 1954)
Phyllodactylus tuberculosus - Tubercular Gecko (Smith 1946)

Conservation Issues  (Conservation Status)

This species is not yet (2021) listed as a threatened or endangered species by the U.S. Endangered Species Act or by the State of California, nor is it a California State Species of Special Concern, and its NatureServe Global Rank is G5 Secure, but it is still protected by being excluded from the list of lizards that can be legally collected. It is also prohibited to destroy the rock outcrops it inhabits.

Taxonomy
Family Gekkonidae Geckos Gamble, Bauer, Greenbaum, & Jackman 2008
Genus Phyllodactylus Leaf-toed Geckos Gray, 1828
Species

nocticolus Peninsula Leaf-toed Gecko Dixon, 1964
Original Description
Phyllodactylus nocticolus - Dixon, 1964 - New Mexico State Univ. Sci. Bull, Vol. 64, No. 1, p. 55

from Original Description Citations for the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America © Ellin Beltz

Meaning of the Scientific Name
Phyllodactylus - Greek - phyllon - leaf and daktylos - finger or digit - refers to the leaf like terminal subdigital lamellae
nocticolus
- Latin - resident of the night - refers to this lizard's nocturnal habits

from Scientific and Common Names of the Reptiles and Amphibians of North America - Explained © Ellin Beltz

Related or Similar California Lizards
Coleonyx variegatus variegatus - Desert Banded Gecko
Hemidactylus turcicus - Mediterranean House Gecko
Coleonyx switaki switaki - Peninsular Banded Gecko

More Information and References
California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Stebbins, Robert C., and McGinnis, Samuel M.  Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Revised Edition (California Natural History Guides) University of California Press, 2012.

Stebbins, Robert C. California Amphibians and Reptiles. The University of California Press, 1972.

Flaxington, William C. Amphibians and Reptiles of California: Field Observations, Distribution, and Natural History. Fieldnotes Press, Anaheim, California, 2021.

Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Behler, John L., and F. Wayne King. The Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Reptiles and Amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, 1992.

Powell, Robert., Joseph T. Collins, and Errol D. Hooper Jr. A Key to Amphibians and Reptiles of the Continental United States and Canada. The University Press of Kansas, 1998.

Grismer, L. Lee. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California, Including Its Pacific Islands and the Islands in the Sea of Cortés. The University of California Press, 2002.

McPeak, Ron H. Amphibians and Reptiles of Baja California. Sea Challengers, 2000.

Samuel M. McGinnis and Robert C. Stebbins. Peterson Field Guide to Western Reptiles & Amphibians. 4th Edition. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2018.

Stebbins, Robert C. A Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians. 3rd Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003.

Lemm, Jeffrey. Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of the San Diego Region (California Natural History Guides). University of California Press, 2006.

Bartlett, R. D. & Patricia P. Bartlett. Guide and Reference to the Turtles and Lizards of Western North America (North of Mexico) and Hawaii. University Press of Florida, 2009.

Jones, Lawrence, Rob Lovich, editors. Lizards of the American Southwest: A Photographic Field Guide. Rio Nuevo Publishers, 2009.

Smith, Hobart M. Handbook of Lizards, Lizards of the United States and of Canada. Cornell University Press, 1946.

Conservation Status

The following conservation status listings for this animal are taken from the July 2022 State of California "Special Animals List" and the July 2022 "State and Federally Listed Endangered and Threatened Animals of California" list, both of which are produced by multiple agencies and can be downloaded here: https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Data/CNDDB/Plants-and-Animals.
You can check this link to see if there are more current lists.

A detailed explanation of the meaning of the status listing symbols can be found on the
Special Animals List. For quick reference, I have copied some of them on my Special Status Information page.

If no status is listed here, the animal is not included on either list. This most likely indicates that there are no serious conservation concerns for the animal. To find out more about an animal's status you can go to the NatureServe and IUCN websites to check their rankings.

This lizard is on the California Department of Fish and Game list of reptiles that cannot be taken with a valid license, but it is not included on the Special Animals List, indicating that there are no significant conservation concerns for it in California. The state is clearly protecting it for some reason, possibly to protect its rocky habitat from being damaged. This is the same situation found with Xantusia henshawi (see Conservation Issues comments) which shares most of its range and habitat. NatureServe lists this species as "Secure" but this includes its entire range, which is much more extensive in Baja California.


Organization Status Listing  Notes
NatureServe Global Ranking G 5 Secure (As of 2/21)
NatureServe State Ranking
U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) None
California Endangered Species Act (CESA) None
California Department of Fish and Wildlife None
Bureau of Land Management None
USDA Forest Service None
IUCN

 

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