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Pine Island vs. Mainland Chahoua Geckos

Understanding the history and identification between both locales

Grand Terre vs. Pine Island New Caledonia.png

Michael Pannone
The Chahoua Chamber
January 1, 2024
michael@thechahouachamber.com

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Introduction

Whether a chahoua is Pine Island, Mainland, or"mixed" locale(s) can quickly become one of the most controversial subjects for keepers of these geckos, and often, attempts at identification create more questions than answers.

Before I proceed, I want to be explicit in saying that what I share here is the most accurate account of chahoua geckos in the reptile hobby based on my knowledge and experience. However, due to black market animal smuggling, insufficient record keeping in the hobby, and generations of breeding in captive collections with a focus on specific traits instead of genetic preservation, much of the discussion around chahoua locales comes down to informed speculation. 

A few definitions:

"Locale" = a place or locality especially when viewed in relation to a particular event or characteristic. In this context, the place from where a gecko or geckos where originally field collected, or to where their lineage traces back. 

"Mainland" = Grand Terre, the mainland and largest island in New Caledonia. In Leachianus species and sometimes with chahoua, this is commonly referred to as "GT."

"Pine Island" = The lsle of Pines, a southern offshore island that is one of the islands that comprises New Caledonia. This is often abbreviated as "PI" or "P.I."

Common Stereotypes and Misconceptions: Pine Island vs. Mainland Chahoua

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For many years, hobbyist discourse around chahoua locales has come down to two main points:

(1) Pine Island chahoua are superior because they are often larger in body size, have more attractive base color, exhibit white collars and pattern, and have more proportional head shapes. It is also believed that Pine Island chahoua cannot or will not regrow their tails if they are lost. 

(2) Mainland chahoua are inferior because they are generally smaller in body size, brown or red in base color, do not typically have white pattern, and tend to have shorter snouts with bulging eyes. Underbites are more commonly associated with mainland chahoua as well. It is believed that mainland chahoua can and will regrow their tails if they drop them.

 

To better understand the differences, let us start with history...

1985: Notes on the taxonomy, morphology and behavior of Rhacodactylus chahoua (Bavay) (Reptilia: Gekkonidae) is published by Aaron M. Bauer

In his description and analysis of chahoua, Aaron Bauer notes two specimens from Vallée d'Amoa, New Caledonia, which is in the northern half of (mainland) Grand Terre, New Caledonia. The following photos are shared of these two geckos:

 

These photos show two Mainland chahoua with white markings and pattern on their necks and pelvic areas, with the female displaying the traits more strongly than the male. This is some of the earliest photographic proof of chahoua on mainland New Caledonia with white pattern and markings, as well as proportional head shapes that do not display bulging eyes or short snouts.
 

1980s - 1990s: Chahoua Geckos Enter the Reptile Hobby

Chahoua geckos first arrived in captive collections in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is widely believed that these animals were exclusively from one part of Grand Terre, and as would be expected with a population of animals collected from only one area, they displayed many similar traits: brown or green base color, no white collars, and larger eyes sometimes in combination with shorter snouts. At this time, these geckos were referred to simply as "chahoua" with no locality distinction provided, which was not uncommon and reflects how many other species first entered the pet trade -- "leopard geckos" come to mind, and they now have many recognized locales after years of field work and identification. A large number of these early chahoua went into Tim Tytle's collection and they were raised by him for several years. 

As a new species entering the pet trade, not much was known about ideal keeping and husbandry practices for chahoua geckos, including diet requirements. These early chahoua were primarily fed baby food and believed to be primarily fruigivorous. As we know now, chahoua rely heavily on insect prey items as well as calcium supplementation for ideal health and while early keepers were learning about the species, neither was provided in adequate volume. This resulted in large numbers of the early chahoua in the pet trade displaying underbites. I suggest reading another piece I've written about the relationship between chahoua (specifically mainland animals) and underbites here if you are curious.

Here are some photos of an animal I owned who is representative of most "mainland chahoua" stereotypes: green and brown base color, no white collar or body pattern, large eyes, and an underbite. When I purchased this gecko, he was sold to me as mainland as well. 

The Mid-1990s: Bill Love, Frank Fast, and Philippe de Vosjoli Go To New Caledonia

In 1995, Bill Love, Frank Fast, and Philippe de Vosjoli embarked upon a field expedition to New Caledonia. The group went to the Isle of Pines and field collected chahoua which they brought back to the United States. In this group of animals were chahoua displaying both the white collar and non-white collar traits.

It was around this time that hobbyists began delineating between Mainland and Pine Island chahoua locales as the Mainland animals had been in the pet trade for a decade at that point, with well documented underbites and without the white collar trait that the newly imported Pine Island animals displayed. This is when Pine Island chahoua became more desirable and more sought after, even though Bill, Frank and Philippe could not sell any of the adult field-collected animals. They were, however, permitted to sell the offspring. It was this way with all early New Caledonian species.

Black market smuggling of chahoua geckos unfortunately began in the mid-1990s as well, and as often happens, these animals were sold into the hobby to suspecting or unsuspecting buyers. It's believed that many of these smuggled animals also originated from the Isle of Pines.

By the later 1990s, enough chahoua offspring had been produced by Bill, Frank, Philippe, and Allen Repashy that a number were offered broadly for sale to hobbyists.

2000: The Herpetofauna of New Caledonia is published by Aaron M. Bauer and Ross A. Sadlier

This is an incredible book for any passionate hobbyist of New Caledonian geckos, but there is one specific reference to chahoua that is worth mentioning. In the "Color Plates" section of the book, Plate 10 includes this image of a chahoua:

The caption of this photo notes: "Sarraméa, Province Sud, New Caledonia, Photograph by Ross A. Sadler." This is noteworthy because Sarraméa is on mainland New Caledonia and this field-observed gecko displays traits many hobbyists would associate with Pine Island chahoua in the pet trade: white collar, white hips, side white, pink base color, diamond pattern down the back, and a more even ratio between the eyes and snout on the gecko's head. 

This is one of the earliest instances of photographic proof of mainland chahoua with white body pattern, brighter body color, and dorsal diamond pattern.

2003: Rhacodactylus The Complete Guide to their Selection and Care is published by Philippe de Vosjoli, Frank Fast, and Allen Repashy

This book is perhaps the most well known among New Caledonian gecko keepers and it includes a section on chahoua with several photos showing both Pine Island and Mainland chahoua. 

Photographs of Pine Island chahoua:

Photographs of Mainland chahoua:

These images show Pine Island chahoua with and without the white collar trait, but there are other interesting things to note as well. The last photo of the "Young red Isle of Pines R. chahoua" under the Pine Island chahoua section shows a gecko with a shorter snout, larger bulging eyes, and a more splotchy or mottled pattern. This animal looks consistent with how most pet hobbyists would label and describe a Mainland chahoua. 

The left photo under the Mainland chahoua section shows a gecko with a longer snout and proportional eyes that don't appear bulging. The red color and pattern look similar to the red Pine Island animal above it, but the skull structure of this gecko seems more consistent with how pet hobbyists describe Pine Island chahoua. 

 

 The book notes the following on page 130:

"Mainland (Grand Terre) and Isle of Pines Rhacodactylus chahoua are very similar, and there is enough variation in their respective populations that they cannot be considered taxonomically distinct. In our limited experience, Isle of Pines animals are generally more patterned than most mainland 'chahoua', with a mottled brown and green background color, and varying degrees of red pattern. In captivity, Isle of Pines R. chahoua tend to achieve a slightly larger size than Grand Terre animals.

There are several morphs of this variable species in captivity, including beautiful copper-red chahoua, and animals (mostly originating from the Isle of Pines) with dark mid dorsal blotches and broad bands of bright white over the shoulder and pelvic areas."

Based on these notes, during the expedition, Love, Fast, and de Vosjoli observed chahoua with red to brown base color and lower contrast pattern on Grand Terre, and chahoua with more vibrant patterns and white markings on their necks and pelvic areas on the Isle of Pines.

2016: Photographer Matthias Deuss' Expedition to New Caledonia

Photographer Matthias Deuss went to New Caledonia on a photographic expedition and among many beautiful photos he captures, one stood out to gecko hobbyists:

Captured in Riviére Bleue on Grand Terre, New Caledonia, this photo shows a chahoua with a large white collar, white markings on the head, as well as on the sides and pelvic area. This image proved once again that chahoua on mainland New Caledonia come in many colors and patterns, including what pet hobbyists would consider "high white."

Left: A Troeger line mainland chahoua showing a shorter snout, bluging eyes, red coloration and no white collar.

Right: A Tremper line Pine Island chahoua showing a longer snout, more proportional eye size and white collar.

Pine Island Rhacodactylus Chahoua - Rhac
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