Sunday, July 3, 2022
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Night Stalkers of the Caribbean

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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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Becky Bauer is a scuba instructor and award-winning journalist covering the marine environment in the Caribbean. She is a contributing photographer to NOAA.


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