The Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko is the largest of the desert-dwelling sand geckos (genus Stenodactylus) found in the United Arab Emirates (2). This species is well-adapted to its desert habitat, with eyes bordered by large scales to protect from sand while burrowing (3), and flattened toes, with a projecting fringe of long scales, to increase surface area contact with the loose substrate (2). The skin is soft, mainly comprising small scales, interspersed with scattered larger, raised scales, termed “tubercles” (2)(4). The overall colouration is pale sandy above, marked with indistinct dark transverse bands and a darker line running from the eyes down each side, and whitish below (4). The eyes are large, and the tail is long and cylindrical, tapering to a fine point (2)(4).
Active at night, the Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko is most commonly encountered walking slowly across the desert sands, body raised high off the ground on its long legs (2). Prey mainly comprises insects and arachnids, which are caught by active pursuit or by remaining still and using an ambush strategy (6)(7). As prey is located by sight, the Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko is usually more active on moonlit nights (7).
During the daytime, the Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko resides in a burrow which it excavates in the sand. This provides shelter from the extremely high surface temperatures and from predators. While inside the burrow, this species will further deter discovery by predators, such as snakes, by obliterating the burrow entrance using vigorous tail sweeps (6)(7). In order to construct a stable burrow, the Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko requires the presence of a thin surface crust, formed from microorganisms and the chemicals they produce, which bind the sand grains together. The Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko usually has several burrows in its home range, and will reside in each for a few days, before switching to one of the alternatives (6).
Although apparently common, at least in some parts of its range (6)(8), the Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko’s habitat is surprisingly vulnerable to disturbance (6). Trampling of sand by livestock and off-road vehicles destroys the surface crust that supports burrow excavation, and can therefore have a negative impact on this species (6).
The Middle Eastern short-fingered gecko is found in the Al Wathba Wetland Reserve, in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, where it receives protection from the increasing disturbance that is occurring as a result of land reclamation for housing and farming (8). Any future conservation efforts within this species’ range should take into account its vulnerability to disturbance from trampling (6).
Environment Agency - Abu Dhabi is a principal sponsor of ARKive. EAD is working to protect and conserve the environment as well as promoting sustainable development in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi.
Tourenq, C., Barcelo, I., Kumari, A. and Drew, C. (2005) The Terrestrial Mammals, Reptiles and Invertebrates of Al Wathba Wetland Reserve – Species List and Status Report. Environmental Research and Wildlife Development Agency, Abu Dhabi.
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