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Researchers in Switzerland solve mystery of patterns on gecko skin

Researchers solve mystery of patterns on gecko skin
Researchers solve mystery of patterns on gecko skin Keystone-SDA

Scientists at the University of Geneva have unravelled the mystery behind the skin patterns of leopard geckos. According to their study, the disappearance of a specific cell type is responsible for the distinctive leopard pattern observed on the geckos' skin.

In their early months, leopard geckos display stripes akin to zebras. As they grow up, these stripes transform into spots on the gecko’s skin. The researchers wanted to better understand this transformation, as the University of Geneva in French-speaking Switzerland announced on Wednesday.

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To achieve this, they analysed skin samples from leopard geckos at different stages of their development. They discovered that young striped animals have three types of pigment cells. However, as the animals mature, one type of pigment cell, known as iridophores, disappears.

Analysis of the geckos’ tails

Further evidence that the absence of iridophores results in spotted skin was gathered through an examination of leopard gecko tails. When these are amputated, they regenerate. Regardless of the gecko’s age, the newly grown tail always exhibits spots rather than stripes. Analysis of the skin from these regenerated tails revealed the absence of iridophores.


The researchers conducted additional tests on geckos with a unique mutation. Leopard geckos with the “Mack Super Snow” mutation are entirely black in their youth before developing spots similar to their counterparts as adults. Apart from the iridophores, another type of pigment cell was absent in the skin of these geckos.

According to the researchers, this shows that a combination of two types of pigment cells is accountable for the striped pattern in young animals. However, one type of pigment cell can independently create spots without the involvement of other pigment cells. The researchers published these findings in the journal “PNAS”.

Translated from German by DeepL/sp

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