Most people find our little, tropical lizards amusing as they scurry across a branch or over a piece of furniture, even vertically up a wall! Like all creatures, they are amazing animals that have adapted to their environment. Let us tell you more about our geckos.

The Caribs called them maboula, evil spirits. The unfortunate myth persists that these small, inoffensive reptiles will attach themselves to a person’s skin and can be removed only by killing them with a hot iron.

There are three genera of geckos on Saint Lucia – Hemidactylus, the Thecadactylus and Sphaerodactylus. The distinguishing characteristics are based on the structure of the toes.

Geckos are mostly nocturnal and have highly specialised eyes for night vision. They are covered by a transparent scale and have no moveable eyelids. In Sphaerodactylus, which is not strictly nocturnal, the pupils are broad ovals that contract only slightly.

The ability of geckos to cling to smooth surfaces may have given rise to the aforementioned myth. The undersides of the toes are covered by a series of flap-like scales bearing minute projections that act as hooks. This is why you can even see geckos apparently defying gravity as they walk across a ceiling.

Among reptiles, geckos are unique in being truly vocal: their calls vary from bird-like chirps to rapid clicking. All members of the group are insectivores.

The common house gecko (Hemidactylus mabouja) is locally known as mabouya. It grows to a length of five inches (thirteen centimeters), half of which is taken up by the tail. During the day, the gecko is found in dark crevices and shows a series of V-shaped, transverse bands on the back and tail. In the late evening, these geckos come out to hunt; they may congregate at lights to feed on insects attracted there.

Our largest gecko is the tree gecko (Thecadactylus rapicauda). The body measures four inches (ten centimeters) and the tail an additional two inches. Thecadactylus is a tree-dweller where it is camouflaged by its cryptic coloration. The female lays an oval egg about three quarters of an inch long.

The skin of most geckos is loose and fragile and the tail breaks easily which can be of advantage in aiding escape. Indeed, one often observes a cat catch a gecko and play with it until it runs away, only to be left with a tail that still wiggles!

The third genus of geckos, Sphaerodactylus (pygmy or dwarf gecko) contains three sub-species: Sphaerodactylus microlepsis, sphaerodactylus microlepsis thomasi, and sphaerodactylus vincenti diamesus.

The two-inch geckos are extremely beautiful animals. The ground colour may vary from orange-brown to dark brown. Sphaerodactylus microlepsis has an island-wide distribution and is most often found in leaf litter on the forest floor. Sphaerodactylus microlepsis thomasi is also found in the same type of cover but is known only from Maria Islet. The third, sphaerodactylus vincenti diamesus has been collected from the Vigie peninsula.

Reproduced with kind permission of the Saint Lucia Animal Protection Society.