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Night Stalkers of the Caribbean

Last month we wrote about the “Little Devils of the Caribbean”; the frequently seen and often ignored diurnal Anole lizards.Thought by many to be “cuter”, possibly because of their smoother, less reptilian looking skin and big round eyes are the Anoles’ cousins, the Geckos.In fact a popular television advertisement character with his own fan club is a friendly little Gecko touting auto insurance with an Aussie accent.

Geckos are found around the world in warmer climates; from Afghanistan to Australia, the Southern United States, Central and South America, Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean and South Pacific Islands. Presently there are over 1000 recognized species with new species regularly identified; one of the newest found just last year in St. Vincent and the Grenadines by an amateur naturalist Father Mark de Silva.

As yet unnamed, this dwarf gecko is so small his bright red, yellow, and black body was initially mistaken for a colorful insect. Geckos range in size from the new dwarf gecko that fits on a dime to the Tokay gecko which can reach lengths of 12-14 inches.Another species, thought to be extinct until recent undocumented sightings brought hope that it still exists, may reach a length of over 2 feet. Gecko coloration ranges from a rather plain gray to multi-hued reds, blues, yellows, and greens with a variety of spots, variegated patches, and stripes and rings.

“Night Stalkers of the Caribbean” is a bit of a stretch since many of us residing here live with relatively stationary Geckos who take up positions each night on our screens and windows when the lights come on; lights that attract bugs providing a veritable feast for the nocturnal Geckos.During my research for this article I discovered that there are also diurnal Geckos, or day Geckos, which are often sold as pets, and that some species may live up to 20 years. The two most commonly found geckos here in the Virgin Islands are the Woodslaves or House Geckos (thought to have arrived in the Caribbean on slave ships from Africa) that frequent our windows at night and the ground dwelling Cotton Spinners that hunt their prey in leaf litter.

It is estimated that one gecko can consume a dozen bugs or more during one dining, favorites being moths and cock roaches thus saving us many holes in our linens and embarrassment from roaches traversing our dinner tables.As do all reptiles, Geckos consume their prey head first and it’s rather an odd sight to see a Gecko with spread wings protruding from the corners of his mouth as he turns a moth for swallowing.A small number of Gecko species also feed upon rodents, small birds, other reptiles, and fruits and vegetables.

One of the more fascinating highlights when watching our screen dwelling Geckos is the observation of developing eggs in the females’ translucent abdomens. Gravid, pregnant, females lay 1-2 pea sized, soft, sticky eggs that quickly harden.Some species of Geckos lay up to 10 clutches of eggs per year while a few species deliver live young. Once the eggs are laid or the young are born the female takes no interest and the juveniles are on their own.At one time or another most of us living with Geckos have found the delicate, tiny hatchlings clinging to an interior wall. In fact, for several months a hatchling resided somewhere in my writing desk as he grew into an adult, sometimes perching on a printer while I wrote.

The Geckos’ ability to climb up a vertical piece of glass and stick to it with seemingly no effort is due to the “setae”, fine Velcro-like bristled hairs, on the bottoms of their stout, stubby toes. Each toe is tipped with a backward curving claw for climbing rough surfaces. Like their Anole cousins, many Gecko species have the ability to detach their tails when threatened; leaving a wriggling tail to perplex the predator as the Gecko scurries to safety.

The most interesting and outstanding feature found in the Gecko species is their ability to vocalize; the only lizards in the world to do so. The squeaking vocalization they make, in fact, gave the family its name for it sounds like “gecko”, and leads to their description in literature as being noisy. Perhaps what many of us mistake as tree frog cacophony in the night is actually coming from the harmless, helpful little Geckos.

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