Giraffe Skull & Dwarf Geckos


We found a giraffe skull with a dwarf gecko inside yesterday. So much more massive at eye level than high in the sky! Nearby there was also a lower jaw of a zebra in an acacia tree and a femur of an ungulate high up in Senegalia mellifera. It’s possible a leopard could have been responsible, though the more likely scenario is that an eagle hauled up bits of the carcass to feed on. Nevertheless, we were so thrilled to actually spot a leopard yesterday evening. It was bounding away causally and disappearing rapidly, though I managed to see four or five leaps of its large spotted body in full view.

Ivy, myself, and Godfrey. Photo credit to Clayton

Kenya dwarf geckos (Lygodactylus kenienis) are the most common lizard inhabitant of the Vachelia drepanolobium monocultures at Mpala. Among the dense arrays of thorns they can be very difficult to spot and keep track of. Often times we only see the tiniest shifting movement to the opposite side of a branch. On one occasion we even observed a gecko run into a domatia as an escape response. Living on acacia trees makes for an unusual lifestyle, especially for a reptile. Symbiotic ant species (with the plants) constantly patrol the trees, with hundreds to thousands attacking any intruding herbivores viciously. However, they seem to discriminate against the geckos in their vigilance. The ants will often come into contact with the toepads of the geckos but retract, abdomens still raised in pursuit of any apparent threat. Whether the geckos play a parasitic role in the acacia-ant mutualism by consuming workers, or whether they aid the mutualism through selectively consuming herbivorous insects is unknown to me. Regardless, these dwarf geckos are an established component of the acacia-ant system. Lygodactylus has been shown to prefer damaged trees because of an increased availability of hollows as refuges. Further work suggests that wildfires and elephant damage to acacia trees act in synergy to provide suitable microhabitat for gecko occupancy, yielding an increase in dwarf gecko density. So far I’ve been unable to get a good photo of the geckos on the branches of an acacia, but we were able to catch one as it emerged from the interior hollows of a giraffe skull. Here is the dwarf gecko smacking its jaws atop one of the giraffe’s ossicones, with some dry hide visible to the left.

All gecko photos taken after disturbance [4]

Zebra lower jaw, found in a similar position up on the acacia tree!
Zebra teeth
Another angle of the giraffe skull

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