Creature with ‘triangular’ head found lurking on cliffs in Vietnam. It’s a new species

Tucked amid the cliffs of northern Vietnam, a “slender” creature scampered along the rocky surface several feet off the ground. Passing scientists noticed the creature — and discovered a new species.

Researchers set out to survey animals in the forests and cliffs of Lũng Cú, according to a study published June 22 in the journal ZooKeys. They were looking for frogs, lizards and snakes or other amphibians and reptiles.

One night as researchers explored a rocky habitat, they spotted a lizard lurking in the cliffs several feet above the ground, the study said. They captured seven lizards and, after taking a closer look, realized they’d captured a new species of gecko.

The new species was named Hemiphyllodactylus lungcuensis, or the Lungcu slender gecko, researchers said. The Lungcu slender gecko has a “triangular” head and can reach about 3.4 inches in size.

The gecko has a “brown sand” coloring with “irregular dark brown streaks,” the study said. Photos show the Lungcu slender gecko from above.

Two Lungcu slender geckos found at the site. Photo from Luu, Nguyen, Do, Pham, Hoang, Nguyen, Le, Ziegler, Grismer and Grismer (2023)
Two Lungcu slender geckos found at the site. Photo from Luu, Nguyen, Do, Pham, Hoang, Nguyen, Le, Ziegler, Grismer and Grismer (2023)

The gecko was named after the area where it was found, the study said. Lũng Cú, Hà Giang province, is the northernmost region of Vietnam, about 250 miles north of Hanoi and along the Vietnam-China border.

The Lungcu slender gecko lived in an area of limestone cliffs surrounded by trees and shrubs. The cliffs were “located near residential areas and road systems,” researchers said.

The new species was identified as distinct based on its body shape and DNA. Genetic analysis found the new species had anywhere from about 4% to about 20% genetic divergence from other known gecko species, the study said.

“Further field research is required to uncover the unrealized diversity of (geckos) in … northern Vietnam,” researchers said. The “relatively small size, low densities, localized distributions, and cryptic coloration (of geckos), render them inconspicuous components of the microenvironments they inhabit.”

The research team included Vinh Quang Luu, Thuong Huyen Nguyen, Quyen Hanh Do, Cuong The Pham, Tuoi Thi Hoang, Truong Quang Nguyen, Minh Duc Le, Thomas Ziegler, Jesse L. Grismer and L. Lee Grismer.

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