As a word of explanation, I once spent two months living in a little village in Maragalakanda, close to Moneragala back in 2004. My purpose, living there without electricity or running water, was to study bird diversity in an agroforestry scheme for my MSc. This was when the photography bug first bit so there are some tales worth telling and some photos worth showing, though the latter were for the most part taken with a dinky Canon G3. For more of the Moneragala Chronicles click here.
Calodactylodes illingworthorum, not exactly a name that rolls off the tongue is it? Luckily it also goes by the somewhat less tongue-twisting name the Golden Gecko. It was, courtesy of my herpetology crazy assistant, my first introduction to the fascinating array of Sri Lanka's Geckos. Rather astonishingly Sri Lanka enjoys a grand total of 42 species of Geckos of which a staggering 31 are endemic to the country, i.e. found nowhere else in the world except our sunny island. Certainly makes you look twice at the Hunas skittering around you doesn't it? illingworthorum is not only endemic to Sri Lanka but was officially described only in 1953 by that Dion of paleontology and zoology of old Lanka, P.E.P. Deraniyagala.
A wary Golden Gecko (Calodactylodes illingworthorum)
Unfortunately the Golden Gecko along with most of Lanka's diverse and endemic reptiles are threatened by habitat destruction by clearing of forest and expansion of agriculture. This is especially a problem for species like illingworthorum which live on discrete boulder outcrops and the destruction of habitat can isolate populations very easily. Continued isolation and destruction of their boulder habitats could lead to that one way alley out of which there is no return, extinction.
Our first sighting of illingworthorum was at dusk as we washed at the stream close to our quarters. As dusk set and the birds started their night calls amongst the rushing water, a dark shape shot across one of the boulders that scattered the banks of the stream. As a call for action for a couple of interested animal geeks, this was a clarion call. Hastening to get our torches we searched high and low amongst the boulders. Eventually finding a small cave, we bravely (well I might have shivered a bit at the prospect) crouched down into it.
Golden Gecko, note the gold coloured neck that gives it its name
As our eyes focused and adjusted to the now bright light of the torches in an enclosed space, a whitish mass made itself apparent on the wall of the cave. To our delight we had found a nesting spot for illingworthorum. Rather interestingly (well I found it interesting since I'm a science geek), this gecko lays its eggs in the same place over and over again. Thus the eggs that we saw were plastered over the hatched remains of previous nestings. An adult watched us warily, beautifully mottled brown and gray with its distinctive orange throat glowing in our torch light, guarding its eggs. We took a few pictures for posterity and then took its leave, a watchful parent reptile. A rather touching show of affection from a humble Huna in the most unexpected location of a random dank cave.
L-R: Eggs laid over the remains of old eggs; Adult Golden Gecko and egg