In recent times, a very striking photograph has attracted appreciable attention on the Net, due to the fact that it ostensibly depicts a gecko of truly gargantuan proportions - not so much a mega-gecko as a veritable giga-gecko! In reality, however, as I swiftly realised when observing it, what this photograph truly depicts is something very different from what it may initially seem to do.
After conducting some online research, I was able to trace the photo back to a news article posted in May 2010 by a Rudy Hartono on a website entitled 'My Funny' (which didn't bode well for the article's contents having a sound scientific basis; click here to access the article). That in turn was based upon a couple of reports appearing in the Tribun Kaltim newspaper on 5 and 6 May 2010 (click here to see their contents reproduced on Promo Spektakuler's blog). These sources claimed that the gigantic gecko, supposedly weighing a colossal 64 kg, had been captured in a forest by a teenager in Nunukan, just inside Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo) on the border with the Malaysian state of Sabah on the southeast Asian island of Borneo, and, after many people had shown great interest in purchasing it, had finally been sold for the eye-watering sum of 64 million Malaysian ringgits (approximately 20 million US dollars) to an Indonesian businessman. He in turn had promptly exited Indonesian Borneo (Kalimantan) with his purchase, taking it instead to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia. Since then, nothing more has been heard about this incredible creature – for a very good reason. The entire story was fictitious, and the photograph (claimed in a brief Jakarta Post report of 5 May 2010 to have been snapped by someone identified only as Arbin) was an excellent example of optical trickery. Clearly, the giga-gecko was a hoax, but who had perpetrated it? That remains a mystery.
Giga-gecko photograph published in the Tribun-Kaltim newspaper on 5 May 2010 (© Arbin/Tribun-Kaltim)
The gecko specimen in question is actually a very familiar, widely-distributed Asian species known as the tokay gecko Gekko gecko, which is instantly recognisable by virtue of its bluish-grey body liberally patterned with bright red or yellow spots. Although the second largest species of gecko alive today, its maximum total length is a mere 20 in and its maximum weight no more than 0.4 kg. The reason why the specimen in the photograph seems so enormous is that it is sited very much closer to the camera than are the man and the cat sitting on (and under) the railing. This is a classic example of an optical illusion known as forced perspective, often seen in photographs and which, as effectively demonstrated here, can generate some very dramatic (as well as potentially deceiving) images when purposefully engineered.
The final nail in the coffin of this reptilian riddle was supplied when an inquisitive blogger named Abdul Wahid downloaded the gecko photograph directly from the Tribun Kaltim newspaper report. For as Abdul revealed in a blog post for 15 May 2010 (click here), he duly discovered that the photo was encoded with information detailing that it had been edited using Adobe Photoshop software. In short, this image was not only an example of forced perspective but had also been photo-manipulated on a computer.
Exit the elusive – and definitely illusive – Indonesian giga-gecko!
DELCOURT'S GIANT GECKO AND THE KAWEKAWEAU
Whereas the Indonesian giga-gecko is merely a monster of photo-manipulation, out-sized wholly by optical trickery as opposed to natural selection, there really is a recently-discovered, bona fide giant gecko – one that although is (relatively speaking) of much more modest dimensions, can boast a history of discovery and abiding mystery that is much more fascinating and significant than any fake or fraud.
Perhaps the most surprising, and belated, herpetological discovery of modern times was that of Delcourt's giant gecko during the early 1980s. For over a century, a stuffed specimen of a most unusual and exceptionally big gecko, yellow-brown in colour with red longitudinal stripes, had been on public display in the Marseilles Natural History Museum, France. Yet in all that time no scientist had ever taken notice of it – until 1979, when the museum's herpetology curator, Alain Delcourt, was sufficiently curious about this 2-ft-long taxiderm lizard to send photographs of it to several reptile experts worldwide.
Alain Delcourt holding the type (and only known) specimen of his reptilian namesake, Delcourt's giant gecko - a taxiderm specimen at Marseilles Natural History Museum (© Prof. Aaron Bauer)
No-one, however, could identify it, and when this unique specimen was formally examined, it was found to represent a wholly unknown species, which in 1986 was officially named Hoplodactylus delcourti. It is by far the largest species of modern-day gecko known to science, making its apparent extinction all the more tragic, as no additional specimens, preserved or living, are on record.
Indeed, there was not even any record of where this enigmatic species' only known specimen – the Marseilles taxiderm individual - had originated. However, because it most closely resembled certain smaller geckos native to New Zealand, scientists assume that this was its provenance.
No-one, however, could identify it, and when this unique specimen was Moreover, the traditional lore of New Zealand's Maori people refers to a large, supposedly mythical lizard called the kawekaweau. Said to measure around 2 ft long, and pale brown in colour with red longitudinal stripes, its description compares very closely to H. delcourti, strongly suggesting that the two are one and the same.
And in recent years, there have even been some unconfirmed reports of living specimens on North Island. So perhaps one day Delcourt's giant gecko will be rediscovered alive after all.
For a comprehensive account of Delcourt's giant gecko, check out my Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals.