Variegated dtella (Gehyra variegata)

Variegated dtella portrait

Top facts

  • The variegated dtella is one of Australia’s most abundant and hardy lizard species.
  • An arboreal species, the variegated dtella can often be found hiding behind loose bark, although it also occurs in rock crevices.
  • The variegated dtella’s flattened digits end in large circular or semi-circular pads.
  • A nocturnal gecko, the variegated dtella mainly hunts for its invertebrate prey at night.
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Variegated dtella fact file

Variegated dtella description

GenusGehyra (1)

One of Australia’s most abundant and hardy lizards (5), the variegated dtella (Gehyra variegata) is a small gecko with a moderately slender, well-patterned body (3) (6). The upperside of its body is generally pale brown to grey or dark brown (2) (3) (6) (7), and marked with dark, irregular streaks and patches (2) (3) (7), while regular bars may overlay an irregular row of pale dots (2), giving a white-flecked appearance (6). Two or three dark lateral lines run down each side of the neck, while the underparts are pink (6) or white (3).

Like other species in the Gehyra genus, the variegated dtella has flat digits which become greatly expanded at the tips to form large, circular or semi-circular pads (2) (6). All of these digits are clawed except the innermost toe of each foot (2) (6) (7). The variegated dtella has a long, thin yet fleshy tail which tapers at the tip (6) (7), while a distinctive feature of this species is the scale on the tip of the nose which slopes steeply on its upper edge (2). Unlike some other Gehyra species, the variegated dtella does not have a web of skin at the rear of each hind limb (2).

Also known as
tree dtella, tree dtella gecko, varied dtella.
Dactyloperus annetteae, Dactyloperus kingi, Dactyloperus lazelli, Dactyloperus variegata, Dactyloperus variegatus, Gehyra australis, Hemidactylus variegatus, Peripia variegata, Peropus variegatus.
Snout-vent length: 2.1 - 5.4 cm (2) (3)
up to 5.84 g (4)

Variegated dtella biology

An expert climber, the variegated dtella can frequently be seen scuttling over tree trunks, walls and rock faces with great ease (2). While this species is mostly nocturnal (3) (4) (7) (10), the variegated dtella may sometimes be active during the day, sheltering beneath loose tree bark and moving swiftly between sunny and shaded sides to regulate its temperature without exposing itself to direct sunlight (5) (6).

Nocturnal reptiles such as the variegated dtella are exposed to lower and more uniform temperatures than diurnal species, and in northern New South Wales the variegated dtella only has a window of about three hours after dark in which to forage, before the temperature drops too low for it to function. However, if temperatures fall below about 18 degrees Celsius, the minimum operating temperature for this species, the variegated dtella will cease its foraging activities sooner (5). The variegated dtella eats a wide variety of invertebrates, including beetles, spiders and termites (3) (6), and is often seen foraging on the ground around the bases of trees or among rock outcrops close to shelter (4) (8).

The male variegated dtella occupies a territory which contains several shelters, into which females are invited (11). Female variegated dtellas are not thought to be able to reproduce until they are 32 to 36 months old (12), and research has shown the subspecies Gehyra variegata ogasawarisimae to be parthenogenetic, meaning that offspring can develop from unfertilised eggs and are usually genetically identical to the adult female (1) (9).

Female variegated dtellas only produce a single egg per clutch, although two clutches are usually laid per season (3) (5) (6). Interestingly, each egg comes from a different ovary, so that both are used in any given breeding season, and the egg takes up an astonishing 20 to 30 percent of the female’s weight (5). The round, hard-shelled variegated dtella eggs are usually laid under logs or bark, or within rock crevices and hollow tree limbs (2) (6), with nesting sites often being shared by several females (3) (6). In Victoria, the nesting season is reported to run from November to December (6).

Variegated dtellas are known to live for more than nine years in the wild (5).


Variegated dtella range

One of the country’s most commonly encountered reptiles (7), the variegated dtella is endemic to Australia (2) (5) (8). A widespread and abundant species (8), this gecko is found throughout the arid and semi-arid zones of central Australia (2) (3) (5), occurring in all the country’s mainland States (1) (2) (8) (9). The variegated dtella is also found in the drier and warmer woodlands of eastern Australia, as well as on many islands off the country’s west coast, including Barrow Island, where this species has a widespread distribution (3).


Variegated dtella habitat

As a mostly arboreal species, the variegated dtella shows a preference for dry wooded areas and open shrubland (2) (6) (7) (10). This species primarily inhabits trees (3) (8), particularly dead ones (8), and is often found sheltering behind loose bark or within tree hollows (2) (5) (6) (7) (8). Shelter sites are usually located approximately one metre above the ground (6).

Additionally, the variegated dtella is known to inhabit rocky areas, dwelling within crevices and on rocky outcrops (3) (5) (7) (8) (10), and can also be found hiding under ground debris such as sheets of iron or discarded hubcaps (2) (5). Studies have shown that the variegated dtella is able to persist in relatively small patches of preferred habitat within agricultural areas, and can alter its habitat use to adapt to changes in the environment (7).


Variegated dtella status

The variegated dtella has yet to be classified on the IUCN Red List.


Variegated dtella threats

There are currently no known major threats to the variegated dtella, and its ability to alter its habitat use in response to changes in its environment indicates that habitat loss is not likely to be having a big impact on this species at present. However, the variegated dtella is thought to be rare in the Murray catchment area of New South Wales as a result of having to compete with the more common southern marbled gecko (Christinus marmoratus) for resources (7).


Variegated dtella conservation

There are currently no known conservation measures in place specifically targeting the variegated dtella. However, all reptiles on Barrow Island are protected (3).

In areas where the variegated dtella is rare, such as the Murray catchment in New South Wales, recommended habitat management strategies included leaving fallen timber and dead trees in place, as well as retaining shrubs and large mature trees (7).


Find out more

Find out more about the conservation of Australian reptiles:

Find out more about wildlife conservation in Australia:

Learn more about reptile species on Barrow Island:



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Of or relating to trees; an animal which lives or spends a large amount of time in trees.
Active during the day.
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
The fusion of gametes (male and female reproductive cells) to produce an embryo, which grows into a new individual.
A category used in taxonomy, which is below ‘family’ and above ‘species’. A genus tends to contain species that have characteristics in common. The genus forms the first part of a ‘binomial’ Latin species name; the second part is the specific name.
Animals with no backbone, such as insects, crustaceans, worms, molluscs, spiders, cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones) and echinoderms.
Active at night.
The female reproductive organ that produces ova, or eggs.
Relating to the development of offspring from unfertilised eggs. The individuals that results are usually genetically identical to their mother.
A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
An area occupied and defended by an animal, a pair of animals or a group.


  1. Species 2000 and ITIS Catalogue of Life (November, 2012)
  2. Wilson, S. (2005) A Field Guide to Reptiles of Queensland. New Holland Publishers, Australia.
  3. Moro, D. and MacAulay, I. (2010) A Guide to the Reptiles and Amphibians of Barrow Island. Chevron Australia, Perth. Available at:
  4. Gruber, B. and Henle, K. (2004) Linking habitat structure and orientation in an arboreal species Gehyra variegata (Gekkonidae). Oikos, 107: 406-414.
  5. Wilson, S.K. (2012) Australian Lizards: A Natural History. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  6. Swan, M. and Watharow, S. (2005) Snakes, Lizards and Frogs of the Victorian Mallee. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  7. Michael, D., Lindenmayer, D. and Crane, M. (2010) Reptiles of the NSW Murray Catchment: A Guide to Their Identification, Ecology and Conservation. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
  8. Johansen, T. (2012) A Field Guide to the Geckos of Northern Territory. AuthorHouse, UK.
  9. The Reptile Database (November, 2012)
  10. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (2012) Gehyra variegata. In: Australian Faunal Directory. Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, Canberra. Available at:
  11. Mathur, R. (2010) Animal Behaviour. Third Edition. Rastogi Publications, India.
  12. Robin, L., Dickman, C. and Martin, M. (2011) Desert Channels: The Impulse to Conserve. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.

Image credit

Variegated dtella portrait  
Variegated dtella portrait

© Jean-Paul Ferrero / Auscape International

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