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Pachydactylus rugosus SMITH 1849


The original article is published in SAURIA, Berlin.

Geographic variation

Ground colour differs with origin, light to dark brown in South Africa to blackish brown in northern Namibia; lighter or darker as a function of temperature and mood; dirty to pure white markings are individual and may very much dominate pattern.

Adult male of Pachydactylus rugosus.

Natural habitat of Pachydactylus rugosus in a dry river in Namibia.

Natural habitat/ecology/ethology

In dry river beds and adjacent areas; on dead trees with loose bark, or dry plant matter around base of bushes, or in tight crevices in rocks flanking dry rivers, or beneath garbage (cardboard sheets in particular); rarely seen on the ground, and if so, usually males in search of females; feed on arthropods and invertebrates; comparatively thick tail is carried bent over body, resembling scorpion (possible mimicry); rather vocal, incl. distress and possible advertisement calls.

The described terrarium for the adults.


Dry terrarium, higher than wide; pairs kept in terr. 50×40×60 cm (l×w×h); well ventilated; walls lined with rocks and bark; illuminated with fluo tube, 12–14 h in summer, 10-12 h in 6-8 weeks of winter; UV radiation irrelevant; 26–28 °C on average, cooler in lower, warmer in higher sections, with hotspot in summer; 24–28 °C (day), 20–24 °C (night) in winter; substrate playground sand, 1-3 mm granulation, 2–3 cm deep; large upright pieces of cork bark to create crevices for sheltering, additional smaller pieces on ground, jumble of small climbing branches; small water bowl (bottle cap); juveniles raised individually in plastic boxes of 17×11×8 cm (L×B×H) with large ventilation surface in lid; hiding place, piece of wood as moulting aid; juveniles are clumsy hunters, small size of cage assists with food acquisition.


Misting twice/week; must not drench terr., but only provide drinking water; wet substrate may cause lethal bacterial infections and egg-binding; feed eagerly on all common feeder insects; mainly given crickets and waxworms, occasionally woodlice, small giant meal- and buffalo worms, and fresh meadow plankton in summer; all food dusted with vitamin/mineral powder; calcium supply crucial; juveniles fed every 3-4 d with 3-5 feeder insects of appropriate size; too many feeder insects cause potentially lethal stress.

Adult females of Pachydactylus rugosus climbing in their terrarium.


Increased food supply after winter break, 10-15 small feeder insects per animal/feeding; no particular courtship observed, but male may lick female, possibly to test readiness for mating; mating takes up to 15 mins. (n=2 obs.); male may copulate with more than 1 female; gravidity difficult to discern; test excavations precede 1st oviposition; spot is then usually reused throughout season; may be covered or in the open; boxes were never accepted; eggs are caught between hind feet and turned over until hard; oviposition pit is closed under heap of substrate; eggs white, oval, hard-shelled, 10.4–14.38 (Ø 12.99) × 9.12–11.58 (Ø 10.65) mm (n=86); clutches placed on playground sand, individually in plastic boxes in incubator; 27–29 °C (day), 20–25 °C (night) produce both sexes; TSD, for females, egg boxes kept at 20–25 °C for 1st 2 weeks, then incubated at 29–31 °C (male temp.); fertile eggs easily recognized, with blood vessels visible from d 3, egg turning reddish within 1 week, then grey; imminent hatching heralded by dorsal pattern of hatchling shining through shell; hatch after 82–124 (Ø 109) d (n=56); hatchlings weigh 0.43–0.56 (Ø 0.52) g, measure 22.23–26.64 mm (Ø 24.54) + 12.5–19.97 (Ø 15.75) mm (n=28); transferred to individual plastic boxes @ 28–31 °C; elevated temp. favour activity, digestion and growth; waxworms make for ideal raising food; all food fortified with vit./min. powder; left in their boxes up to age 6 months, then placed in groups of 3-5 in larger terr., sorted by sex; grow rapidly and may start reproducing at age 8-10 months; not used for breeding before age 18 months as females may develop health problems when too young; 6–10 clutches/year; can only be stopped from laying by decreasing temp. for winter; rel. large terr. permit keeping sexes together all year round.

Mating in a terrarium.

Pachydactylus rugosus hatching; surprisingly, it is the tail that emerges from the egg first.

Freshly hatched juvenile.

Newly hatched baby gecko with a multitude of white markings.

Young captive-bred female at 7 months of age.


Originalbeschreibung / Original description  

SMITH (1949): Illustrations of the Zoology of South Africa, Reptiles (London, 4), 1-28, Pl. 75, App. 2 — Terra typica: the interior of Southern Africa

P. superne auranteo-albus, capite postice macula nigro-brunnea falcata marginato, dorso inter scapulas macula ovata et corporè postice tribus fasciis latis nigro-brunneis variegatis; lateribus nigro-brunneis; partibus inferioribus viridi-flavis; squamis partim tuberculosis conicis, partim parvis granulosis.

longitudo è nasi apice ad basin caudae 2 1/2 unc.; caudae ?

Colour.—The upper surface of the head rusty orange-coloured white, faintly clouded with brownish red, apex of the nose clear orange-coloured white; sides of head pale brownish red, tinted with orange-coloured white. Head posteriorly bounded by a deep brownish red, crescent-shaped band speckled with white; this mark extends from one eye to the other, and its hinder edge at the middle of the back is bifurcate. On the vertebral line between the fore legs, a deep oval brownish red spot, broadly edged with orange coloured white, which before and behind is broken into three pro jecting points, anteriorly the outermost on each side prolonged forwards in the form of a broad band till it reaches the angle of the mouth. Back and sides deep brownish red, the former variegated with three irregular transverse orange-coloured white bars, the last immediately behind the base of the tail. Extremities externally rusty orange-coloured white. Under surface of head, breast, and belly greenish white, speckled with minute greenish brown spots. Lips straw-yellow, barred perpendicularly with light brownish red. The reproduced tail pale yellowish brown, variegated with numerous short black lines placed longitudinally.

form, &c.—Head long and subovate, temples rather prominent, sides of head nearly perpendicular and converge towards the nose, the latter is narrow and rounded; nostrils small, circular, and situated close to the rostral plate, anteriorly formed by the nasal and posteriorly by a narrow post-nasal plate. Eyes large; pupil vertical; upper eyelid narrow and externally covered with small conical scales; no vestige of the lower lid. External earopening small, subovate, in a line with the angle of the mouth, and about two lines behind it. Plates of upper lip ten, the last very small, and situated immediately under the eye, considerably in front of the angle of the mouth; plates of lower lip ten, the four last excessively small. Rostral plate five sided; mental plate subtriangular; neck narrower than the hind-head; body subcylindrical; extremities rather long and moderately robust. Toes rather slender, and towards and at the point slightly enlarged, the outermost and innermost of the fore feet equal in length, the second and fourth rather longer, the third longest, the middle one of the hinder foot rather longer than the other four, which are of equal length. The point of each toe is superiorly covered by a large flat scale, like a nail, and inferiorly by four transverse angular cuticular folds, the angle equidistant from each extremity. The remainder of the under surface, behind these folds, is coated with three longitudinal rows of scales, those of the middle row the largest. All the toes clawless. The scales of the head are small and conical, or three sided, and are slightly separated from each other by the intervention of a few minute granular scales. The back and sides are covered with scales of a like description, but the tubercular ones especially on the back are much larger and many of them distinctly three sided, the anterior side generally very sharp or keeled. The small ones, which intervene between the larger ones, vary in size, and have more or less conical or three sided; many of the tubercles on the sides are perfectly conical and ribbed longitudinally. Scales on the under surface of the head and body, and on the inner surface of extremities small, equal in size, and subconical; on the outer surface of the extremities conical, large near the body, smaller towards the toes, and everywhere as on the back and head, slightly separated from each other by the intervention of small granular scales. The natural tail, there is reason to believe, is surrounded with rings of conical tubercles, and four such tubercles occur in a longitu dinal row on each of its sides, immediately behind the base of the hinder extremity. Length from nose to base of tail 2 1/2 inches.

Inhabits the interior of Southern Africa.    The specimen I possess is the only one I have yet seen.



Pachydactylus rugosus frater HEWITT, 1935

Some new forms of batrachians and reptiles from South Africa. — Rec. Albany Mus., 4(2): 316. — Terra typica: Heichamchab, South West Africa

Type: A single adult male from Heichamchab, South West Africa, presented to the AlbanyMuseum by Mr. R. D. Bradfield. The general appearance is very like that of rugosus as figured by Smith (Zoology South Africa, Rept, PI. 75, f.2), but the white bands across the back are relatively a little broader: this is markedly so in the case of the white band immediately preceding the tail, which in all specimens of frater is almost as long as the brown interspace in front of it, but is represented as quite a thin stripe in the figure of rugosus: at the sides these white bands tend to extend forwards and backwards, forming a discontinuous lateral stripe on each side and sub-insuliform dark areas dorsally: flanks infuscated, the white transverse bands ending abruptly therein. In rugosus, as described both by Smith and Boulenger, the mental is subtriangular: in frater it is longer than broad, not subtriangular, a little narrower behind but in no case much so and sometimes not at all so, always well squared or rounded behind. Boulenger describes rugosus as having scales on lower surfaces (including abdominal scales) granular, sub-conical, and Smith refers to the scales on under surface of head and body as small, equal in size and subconical: in frater the throat scales are rightly termed granular and subconical, but the breast and belly scales are in no case subconical, though granular in southern specimens, and always smaller than those on the throat. The smallest scales occur immediately behind the mental and over a small area under the neck. In the type of frater the breast scales are flattish and abdominal scales are all imbricate or subimbricate, markedly different in size and form from the throat scales.

In rugosus the nasorostrals are separated by a granule (Boulenger): in type of frater by 4 small granules, in other specimens by 2, 2 and 3 small granules. Smith reports the larger head scales as some conical, others 3-sided and the larger scales of the back as many of them distinctly 3-sided, the anterior side generally very sharp or keeled: Boulenger merely refers to back tubercles as large conical and spinose. In frater 3-sided dorsal tubercles do not occur, but the tubercles are more or less regularly conical, finely and numerously ribbed longitudinally and with one sharp strong keel in front: dorsally these are more or less in longitudinal rows. Boulenger describes the rostral scale of rugosus as a little broader than high: in the type of frater it is about 1 2/3 times as broad as high, in other specimens scarcely 1 1/2 times. Subdigital lamellae 4, and a small divided one apically. According to Smith's description and figure there is a mesial subdigital row of distinctly enlarged scales: this is not a striking feature on the toes of frater, but a row of slightly enlarged scales occurs.

At the base of the tail on each side three very large conical scales and below them numerous close set conical scales. The greater portion of the tail is reproduced, but in the type there still remains three basal segments of the original tail, and in other specimens 1 segment or 2. The segments are narrow but each one is conspicuous owing to the presence of an incomplete ring of conical scales, the lateral ones a little recurved: these scales dorsally and laterally are sharply pointed and large, to the number of about 6 in the type, 8 in other specimens. The reproduced tail is elongate. Total length from snout to vent 56 mm.

In Kakamas and Rietfontein specimens the dorsal tubercles are rather more scattered than in the type and the breast and belly scales more flattened. In females there are no flattened ventral scales in front of the vent.

It may be noted that the type locality of rugosus is unknown, but presumably it came from some western area south of the Orange River. Dr. F. Werner gives a brief account of rugosus in his work on the Schultze collections (Jenaische Denkschriften XVI, Schultze, Forschungsreise in Sudafrika IV, p. 312, 1910), and figures a specimen: according to that figure, presumably based on a specimen from Kamaggas, he had a form differing considerably from frater both in pattern and in scaling—the dorsal scales being represented as in transverse lines: as to the ventral scaling no information is given. Possibly there are various distinguishable local races of this species. Specimens from the Orange River neighbourhood may merit recognition as another sub-species: for the colour pattern of this form see PI. XXIX, fig. 5, based on a female specimen from Onscep on the Orange River near Pella (Dr. Maughan Brown). For the present however, on the limited material before me, I include under frater the Orange River race as found at Kakamas and Onscep.