ScienceWise - Jan/Feb 2009

The gecko girls

Article Illustration
The Bynoe’s gecko (Heteronotia binoei) Photography: Matthew Fujita

Australia’s only reptile capable of asexual reproduction

The Bynoe's gecko (Heteronotia binoei) can be found ranging over many of Australia's different landscapes. While some other species of gecko are specialised to live in particular habitats, such as on rocks, up trees, or on sand dunes, Bynoe's gecko is a habitat generalist, happy to live just about anywhere. But one location it's especially fond of is man-made rubbish dumps.

The Bynoe's gecko is of special interest to reproductive biologists because some populations of Bynoe's consist entirely of females; identical, genetic clones of one another reproducing without the need for males. The phenomenon is called "parthenogenesis" and comes from the Greek parthenos, "virgin" and genesis, "creation".

While parthenogenesis is not uncommon in the wider biological world (lots of plants do it, some insects do it, and some fish do it too), Bynoe's gecko is the only Australian reptile known to reproduce in this way. The parthenogenetic geckos evolved when two genetically distinct groups of Bynoe's came into contact and bred, and through a twist of genetic fate ended up with three sets of chromosomes rather than the usual two.

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