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TX Press: Surprising facts about geckos

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Wed Oct 10 11:12:09 2007  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  

STAR-TELEGRAM (Fort Worth, Texas) 04 October 07 Surprising facts about geckos - They lick their eyeballs! Their feet are adhesive! We round up surprising facts about the little lizards in abundance this season. (Cathy Frisinger)
Great gaggles of geckos
You open your mailbox, a gecko skitters to the back. You glance out the window at night, and a gecko stares back at you. You open the drapes in the morning and -- eek! -- a small creature scampers away.
What the heck-o is up with the gecko?
If you think you've been seeing a lot of the little lizards in and around your home this year, you're not imagining things. Herpetologist Gary Ferguson, a retired Texas Christian University professor, says all the rain we've had in North Central Texas this year has meant lots of insects, and that, in turn, has been good for the lizard population.
The gecko among us
There are 1,196 species of geckos in the world, but none is native to North Central Texas, says Todd Jackman, an associate professor of biology at Villanova University, who's part of a team that's studying how all the geckos of the world are related.
The species that everyone's seeing in the Fort Worth area these days is the Mediterranean house gecko (scientific name: Hemidactylus turcicus). Jackman says it hitchhiked its way across the ocean on airliners or ships sometime in the '50s and gradually worked its way northward.
Ferguson encountered the Mediterranean house gecko in New Orleans when he was studying at Tulane in the '60s, but it hadn't yet arrived in Tarrant County when he started teaching at TCU in '74. The species is well-established in the area now, though.
The Mediterranean house gecko is small, typically 2 to 4 inches long, and it has a tan upper body with black spots or black stripes. It's a nocturnal animal and hides during the day in cracks, in woodpiles, in your drapes. H. turcicus dines on small insects, including moths, flies, mosquitoes, June bugs and roaches, Jackman says. (Go, go, geckos!)
The females of the species lay two eggs per clutch, and they lay eggs about half a dozen times a year.
By the way, the green lizards you sometimes spot in yards in Tarrant County are not a species of gecko, but anoles.
Gecko anatomical oddities
The tale of the tail: You try to trap that gecko with a glass so you can take it outside and the next thing you know its tail is flopping around on its own, separate from the rest of the body. Geckos will lose their tails when attacked, Jackman says. The tails continue to wriggle and then the attacker, usually a bird, concentrates on eating the tail, allowing the gecko to escape. Like many lizards, geckos have the ability to regenerate their tails.
Sticky feet: No, geckos do not have tiny suction cups on the bottoms of their feet allowing them to scamper up walls and across ceilings. What they do have, Jackman says, are millions of little brittle, hairlike structures that interact with the surface of the structure they cling to. The hairs interact with the surface the gecko's feet are on at an atomic (ie. electron) level. Companies like DuPont and 3M are very interested in discovering an adhesive that works like gecko feet, Jackman says.
Don't blink!: About half of all gecko species, including the Mediterranean house gecko, do not have movable eyelids, Jackman says. The lidless geckos will lick their eyeballs to clean them.
Geckos as houseguests
The best way to deal with geckos in your home is to learn to love them, says Patrick Prather, of Rid-All Pest Control in Fort Worth, an organic pest-control company. "A lot of our customers strive to keep the geckos in their house," Prather says. "I have about a half dozen of them that live in my house, and we just let them do their thing. I have one that lives in my coat closet, I have one that lives in an ivy plant, I have one that lives behind the refrigerator. You hardly ever see them except maybe at night when you turn on the light. Most people have them living in the garage. I have one that's 6 inches long that lives in the corner behind the drapes in the living room. They'll keep all the insects cleaned up off the potted plants."
If you're not quite as open-minded about lizards as Prather, simply pick up geckos you encounter in your home by the center of the body (not the tail, it will come off) and carry them outside. And remember, they eat insects that annoy you.
Geckos as pets
Some people keep some of the larger species of geckos as pets. Reno, Nev., college student Cody Castellanos has been breeding leopard geckos, the most popular pet species, for fun and for money for seven years.
Leopard geckos get to be 8 to 10 inches long when full grown and can easily live 20 years if properly cared for, the young entrepreneur says. Pet owners can put two to three geckos together in a tank but should never put two males together. (And how do you know ...? The males are larger and have V-shaped pores on their undersides, he says.)
Before feeding live insects to his geckos, the breeder "gut-loads" the insects, meaning he feeds them high-quality food. Geckos will not eat dead insects. Castellanos keeps crickets, meal worms and five species of roaches to keep his leopard geckos happy. Bet Cody's mom would like him to get a new hobby.
Geckos in commerce
Geckos show up in names of numerous businesses. There's a Cafe Gecko in Addison, Netscape has a Gecko browser and there's a Gecko Tours for adventurous travelers. And then there's Peter MacKenna, who can't quite explain why he and his two sons named their Dallas home-improvement business Gecko Construction and One-Day Bath, but it did make for a cool logo of a gecko in a bathtub.
Geckos in the news
A gecko made the cover of Nature magazine on July 19. Researchers constructed an artificial surface that mimicked the tiny hairs of the bottoms of the gecko's foot, and they coated it with a substance similar to the excretion that mussels use to stick to rocks. The combined gecko/mussel surface worked moderately well as an underwater adhesive. The research could lead to important applications for things like surgery and, oh, underwater sticky notes.
Art gecko
The gecko is one of the recurring themes in Southwestern art and an occasional theme in Caribbean/tropical artwork.
Plow & Hearth sells a ceramic gecko for $39.95 at
Target sells a 40-inch metal gecko for $49.99 at
An online store called Tropic Accents sells colorful painted-metal geckos at
Get yourself a "Geckos Rule" poster for $16.99 or a gecko wall clock for $17.99 at
Geckos in show biz
There are several theater groups with "gecko" in their name, including somewhat renowned ones in London and Perth, Australia, but the Geico gecko stands head and tiny green shoulders above all the other show-biz geckos.
The Geico gecko first appeared in a TV commercial in 1999 as a way to get the name and pronunciation "Geico" clear in people's minds. In the spot, a cranky gecko complained that people were calling him instead of the insurance agency. The ad, which appeared during a Screen Actors Guild strike, was a hit, and he's been embraced by the Geico company, which has terrariums with geckos in their headquarters in the Washington, D.C., area.
Kelsey Grammer famously voiced the gecko for a while, but a few years back, the Martin Agency decided to upgrade the animation and make the voice less upper crust. The current voice is that of British actor Jake Wood, who gives the little guy an accent that is intended to be cockney but some think sounds Aussie.
Jackman, says the Geico people may not be aware of it, but their gecko is clearly based on a genus of geckos called Phelsuma that is native to Madagascar.
"The Geico gecko is active in the day," Jackman says -- and he doesn't mean hawking insurance. Almost all geckos are nocturnal, but the Phelsuma genus is of interest to scientists because it is one of a handful of geckos that is diurnal.
In 2005, the Geico gecko was named Icon of the Year during Advertising Week in New York.
As to whether the gecko, like the caveman, might get his own TV show, Martin Agency spokesman Dean Jarrett says, "The gecko is on standby, watching to see how it goes."
Surprising facts about geckos


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