Where Have All the Geckos Gone?

 
Gecko
Originally Posted 1/25/2013
 

I love geckos.  I love them for many reasons:

  • I think they are are cute.
  • They have super-hero suction feet.
  • They are kindof transparent, especially on their underside.
  • They have big, beautiful eyes.
  • They are lightning fast when necessary.
  • When they choose to slow down, they swing and sway as they walk.
  • They usually don’t bite humans – and if they ever did, they aren’t poisonous and really, would it hurt?
  • In turn, when something bites them on the tail, they’ll happily detach it.
  • The detached tail will wiggle for a while thereafter, distracting the predator so that the gecko can escape.
  • If it is lost, the tail will soon grow back.
  • Best of all, geckos eat roaches and many other household and garden pests, serving as a natural pesticide, if you will.

Baby Gecko

In the wintertime, I truly miss the geckos that usually greet me, clinging like live decorations to the brick walls of my doorway on warm nights. As most of you know by now, I live in the southern US where the winters are relatively mild. I would expect to see geckos out and about during the week-long warm spells we have now and then in January & February. Not so, and I’ll tell you why –
Geckos brumate.

Brumate?

Brumation is what reptiles do in the colder seasons, very similar to the hibernation activity of mammals. Although reptiles are cold blooded and can withstand fluctuations of temperatures very well, their bodies instinctively seek rest and added protection as the days grow shorter and the temperatures become consistently cooler. Their metabolism also gradually slows during this period – to the point they will not eat, yet they are able to maintain a healthy weight. Interestingly, pet geckos that enjoy warmer household temperatures and artificial lighting may still instinctively brumate. Their bodies may sense even the slightest decrease in indoor temperatures and send them into brumation, however their reactions may not be quite as dramatic as those of the lizards that live outdoors. If you have, or have had, reptiles as pets, you may recognize this period as the time when your lizard becomes slightly lethargic and just doesn’t eat as much as usual. Perhaps this is the month or so that your lizard consistently leaves a few live crickets in the tank whereas he usually gobbles them all up. Geckos that live outdoors will seek shelter in warm crevices, hollow logs, deep leaf mounds and mud as nighttime temperatures begin to dip below 50 degrees. Don’t be surprised if you accidentally disturb a gecko or two brumating in your outdoor planters should you decide to sow a few winter or early spring flowers! My mom innocently dug up a number of brumating bullfrogs one year that were overwintering in the terra cotta planters situated on her sunny porch. Don’t fret, though – disturbing reptiles and amphibians during brumation will not hurt or kill them, it only inconveniences them a bit. Conversely, when weather conditions become extremely hot and dry, cold-blooded animals will often estivate – or seek cool, moist, shaded areas in which to rest to help them better survive the severely arid period. Lizards that live in desert areas are often found in an estivation stage under rocks and deep inside ledges during the hottest of the summer months.

Gecko stamp

 

Back to the gecko in particular . . . During my research about why I rarely, if ever, see geckos during the wintertime, I learned a few more points I’d like to share with you in conclusion:

  • By far the most common gecko we see in the US has the scientific name, Hemidactylus turcicus. It is commonly known as the Mediterranean House Gecko. (There is another gecko species that has arrived in the US recently that originates from Asia, but it is not nearly as abundant.)
  • As its name suggests, the Mediterranean House Gecko originates from southern Europe and northern Africa. (See map below)
  • It has lid-less eyes with vertical pupils and sticky toe pads, traits unlike the lizards native to the US.
  • The Mediterranean House Gecko was first noted in the US in 1915 in Florida.
  • It was thought to have arrived in the US as a stowaway aboard a ship and since then, has acclimated well to the populated cities of the Gulf coastal states, Caribbean and Mexico.
  • The Mediterranean House Gecko is nocturnal, again, coming out at night to eat household insects and garden pests that are drawn to porch lights.
  • Female geckos typically lay only one or two eggs per clutch, but may have several clutches each summer.
  • It is believed the only predator of geckos in the US is the snake (that is, not counting our overly curious dogs and cats!)
 Gecko map
Distribution of the Mediterranean House Gecko
 

As I close this post, I ponder the differences in how humans, animals, birds, insects and plants adapt to the seasons. Some of us hibernate, some of us brumate, some of us migrate and some of us transform. I think if there is one commonality here, it is that we should respect and listen to the nature of our bodies. If we are tired, we should seek rest. If we have overindulged, we should seek moderation. If we are too hot or too cold, we should seek shelter. Lastly, if we are unhappy, we should certainly seek contentment.

Nature is nurture, after all.

Until next time,

Cindy

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