Washington, May 23 : Scientists at the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum of Natural History and Pennsylvania's Villanova University have discovered a new family of gecko, which according to them could allow scientists to better understand the evolution of the creature's sticky toe pads.
Geckos are small to average sized lizards belonging to the family Gekkonidae, found in warm climates throughout the world.
Scientists have long been interested in geckos and their evolution because they are key biodiversity indicators and are found on nearly every continent.
The charismatic large-eyed lizards popularized by car insurance commercials have also attracted scientists because of their sticky toe pads, which allow them to scale rough and smooth surfaces, a characteristic that may have human application in medicine, emergency rescue service and military industries.
For the study, graduate students Tony Gamble from the University of Minnesota and Aaron Bauer from Villanova sequenced DNA from 44 species of gecko and used this genetic data to reconstruct the animals' family tree.
The resulting new classification is different from previous classifications, which are based solely on foot structure.
"A classification based solely on foot structure will track selective pressure on the feet and not represent actual evolutionary history," said Gamble.
He added that this discovery would add to a more accurate gecko family tree that, in turn, will allow scientists to better understand how sticky toe pads have evolved.
The researchers have named the new family "Phyllodactylidae," referring to the leaf-shaped toes of many of the species in this group (phyllo meaning "leaf:" dactyl meaning "toe").
The new family consists of 103 species found in semiarid and tropical regions of North Africa, the Middle East, North and South America and the Caribbean.
Gamble and Bauer's study will be published in the forthcoming issue of Zoological Scripta: An International Journal of Systematic Zoology.