Stranger Fruit

About twenty-five years ago, I read Gerald Durrell‘s book My Family and Other Animals (1957), an account of his early life in Corfu. One part made a distinct impression on me – his account of watching geckos on the walls of his house. To me, as a teenager in Ireland, this was the height of the exotic, after all Ireland has only one type of native reptile, the Common Lizard, Lacerta vivipara, and I had only seen one on a single occasion (slow worms, Anguis fragilis, are a recent localized introduction). To the twelve-year old me (in wet, cloudy, overcast Ireland), Durrell’s experience of sun and reptiles seemed unthinkable and impossible to replicate.

Fast forward to twelve years ago. I find myself in the desert southwest, and lo & behold, we have geckos on the walls! Not being much of a herp person, I’ve never really paid much attention to them beyond removing them from our house (at my wife’s insistence, I assure you!) or showing then to my daughter. But last night, as I was sitting out watching the geckos hunt moths, I was reminded of Durell. As it turns out, the species we have here in the Phoenix metro area is Hemidactylus turcicus, the Mediterranean gecko, an obvious introduction.(The native species is the Western banded geckoColeonyx variegatus).

So I guess I got to see Durrell’s geckos after all, albeit not in Corfu.

Comments

  1. #1 Dr. Free-Ride
    May 26, 2006

    Dude, geckos hunt moths? Could you send us a few?

    (Both offspring love butterflies, but moths freak the younger offspring nearly out of her skin.)

  2. #2 John Lynch
    May 26, 2006

    She’ll love this picture – gecko deep-sixing a moth.

    I’ve actually seen them take out butterflies as well.

  3. #3 ArtK
    May 26, 2006

    My 9yo just got a leopard gecko — cute little thing. Don’t know if this one eats moths, though.

  4. #4 SAlmhjell
    May 26, 2006

    I had a gecko in Saudi Arabia during Desert Shield/Storm for a pet. I couldn’t tell you what kind it was. Sorry. I used to stun flies and pull one or both of it’s wings off and let Guido do his work on ‘em. Oh man, it was great. He would just kind of slowly stalk ‘em and then it was always BAM! death from above. Sweet. Stupid flies. I still hate ‘em. Bad.

  5. #5 windy
    May 26, 2006

    Ireland has only one type of native reptile, the Common Lizard, Lacerta vivipara, and I had only seen one on a single occasion (slow worms, Anguis fragilis, are a recent localized introduction).

    So St. Patrick left the lizards in peace? That was nice of him :) But why has someone bothered to introduce A. fragilis?

  6. #6 DonnY
    May 26, 2006

    For an interesting take on geckos, check the Stanford U Stickybot website that shows the development of a robot using gecko-like van der Waals adhesion to climb up a glass window. On the webpage, look for the 1 Apr 06 23 Mb movie – truly amazing – and yes, the robot looks like a gecko, particularly the articulated feet and toes:
    http://bdml.stanford.edu/twiki/bin/view/Main/StickyBot
    Looks like great fun!

  7. #7 Paul Riddell
    May 26, 2006

    Ah, so you’ve noticed the wonder that is H. turcicus. I live in Dallas, and they started to move into our area a little over a decade ago, so now most of the area is overrun. This isn’t a problem: we don’t have any indigenous geckos in the area, they don’t compete with Anolis carolinensis in that they’re purely nocturnal, and the occasional winter freeze keeps the population in check. Well, that and the fact that both cats and crows love them.

    Anyway, what’s really interesting about the Medgeckos is that they generally travel no further than about three meters from where they were born, so their distribution across the US (having originally arrived in Florida with imported plants) was a bit problematic. Six years ago, I was invited to lecture at Texas A&M University for their big AggieCon science fiction convention (I used to be a skiffy writer; pity me), and I was blessed with a long conversation with a grad student who just finished a major paper on H. turcicus distribution. It turns out that while the adults rarely move from their birthplaces, one of those rare moments involves the females finding places to lay their eggs. Since their eggs naturally adhere to most surfaces, the females would lay eggs on the undersides of trucks, cars, and moving boxes, and the hatchlings would emerge hundreds or even thousands of miles away. She didn’t realize the connection until she overlaid a map of the Texas highway system over her map of first reported sightings and discovered that areas without access to the Interstates didn’t start reporting gecko sightings for years after adjoining areas with access were already overrun.

    Otherwise, have fun with them: I know a few people who keep them in captivity, but they’re generally too delicate to keep other than underneath streetlights and back porches. I have quite a large colony at my house, and I encourage them to stay in my greenhouse: they don’t bark the way Tokays do, they don’t get into equipment, and they do a very good job at keeping the bugs under control.

  8. #8 John Lynch
    May 26, 2006

    Paul,

    Interesting comments on distribution and dispersion.

    I like them a lot – one of the joys of living here, to be honest. I like the fireflies in the mid-west and the geckos here!

  9. #9 John Lynch
    May 26, 2006

    Windy,

    No one knows how the slow worms got to Ireland. They are restricted to the area known as the Burren in the west of the country.

  10. #10 Sean Storrs
    May 29, 2006

    I often see geckos sunning themselves on the warm bricks at the front of my house. I’ve never gotten a close look at one though because they get skitish when I get too close.

    While on a trip to Cancun, I was zooming around the hotel grounds checking things out when I saw something moving on the asphalt of the hotel’s parking lot. Because it blended into its surroundings very well, it took me a second to realize what I was looking at. It was an iguana. In hindsight, most likely a Mexican Spiny-tailed Iguana (Ctenosaura acanthura). I was taken aback because I’d never seen anything like that.

    Later, I spotted some iguana hanging from the branches of a tree. Even though I still wasn’t sure what to make of them, unlike their distant American cousins, they were completely unfazed by me and continued sunning themselves as I went rolling by.

  11. #11 Sean Storrs
    May 29, 2006

    Let me try this again… You can find out more about the Mexican Spiny-tailed Iguana here. I haven’t quite gotten the hang of HTML yet.

  12. #12 Sean Storrs
    May 29, 2006

    Third time is the charm, I guess. Here is
    the elusive link.

  13. #13 Debbie O'Hara
    December 8, 2006

    I have a question about Gecko’s that live out side in Florida. I live near Pensacola, and it gets below 30 degrees some time for a day or so. Where do the Gecko’s go during this time, and does the cold kill them? And if it does, why are there more next year?
    I just put one outside on my patio, its 30 degrees and its not moving.

  14. #14 Terry Schwaner
    June 12, 2007

    John,

    Would you tell me all you can about the work on Hemidactylus turcicus by the person at Texas A & M? I’m trying to complete a paper on genetic variation in the beast and her “laying a map down on the locations” is really important. Did she publish that work? Thanks.

    TDS

  15. #15 John Lynch
    June 12, 2007

    Terry,

    Unfortunately, I don’t know anything about the Texas A&M work – it was Paul Riddell who made the comment and he did not leave an email. You may just want to Google for him in the Dallas area and see what happens.