July 27, 2010
By Darla Martin Tucker
His mission was to find an elusive gecko in a jungle cave. The quest ultimately involved crawling army-style 60 feet below the ground and falling in total darkness into a pool of water.
But La Sierra University biologist Lee Grismer, in typical do-or-die fashion, was determined to complete the task earlier this month and return to the United States from the Malaysia-Thailand border with the sought after cave-dwelling gecko. It is potentially a brand new species and an animal that the world of science has never seen, until now. The mission included Grismer’s capture of one of the brightly colored, docile but deadly vipers that lie in wait near the cave to make a meal of small creatures, including possibly the small, brown cave geckos with big eyes.
Grismer returned to La Sierra on July 10 with both live animals -- a beautifully colored yellow, green and black viper and a chocolate brown, black-spotted gecko, which delivered a pair of eggs en route on the plane. He believes the geckos have made the jungle cave their permanent home and is very likely a new species.
The hypothesis will play out during tests of the gecko’s DNA against DNA from other gecko species outside the cave to determine its uniqueness and whether it is in the middle of transforming and adapting from its former forest environment to the cave environment. For example, tree-climbing geckos have stout limbs and stocky bodies with bumps while cave geckos typically have smooth skin, skinny bodies and long, spidery limbs for climbing vertical rock walls. The small, brown gecko Grismer captured has a thinner body than tree-climbers, smaller body nubs and a color pattern that appears to be in the process of muting. It’s a potentially exciting find for science. “This one’s right in the middle. I think we’ve caught this transitional phase while it’s happening,” Grismer said. “So often we don’t find these transitional forms alive.” He expects to complete the DNA tests by year’s end and publish his findings in a leading science journal.
Last month Grismer talked about his upcoming gecko-capturing adventure during a Charter Communications Local Edition news segment that aired the last week of June and first week of July following CNN Headline News. During the interview, Charter Local Edition host Brad Pomerance talked with the scientist about his lab’s wide-ranging research, his new discoveries, his views on conservation, and his planned trip to the remote limestone cave on top of the mountain. The five-minute segment included a live ‘visual aid’ – Grismer brought to the interview a 17-foot, Reticulated Python for Pomerance and viewers to see. The local edition broadcast invited him back to show the animals and talk about his adventures in capturing them. The BBC has also contacted him about the possibility of broadcasting a segment featuring his scientific work and jungle adventures.
On July 5, Grismer, with four Malaysian university students as guides, walked into the mouth of a limestone cave in a mountain range near the border of Malaysia and Thailand. They were greeted by the cave’s residents – flurries of bats and 10-inch-wide spiders. The group charted a meandering path through chambers and tunnels but after a third of a mile into the mountain they had not come across any geckos. Grismer was aggravated. Then his young guides suggested continuing the search by crawling through a small tunnel bedded with trickling water.
July 27, 2010