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Biodiversity Blog

 

BACKYARD BIODIVERSITY: Mediterranean gecko

586px Mediterranean house gecko
 Photo: ZooFari (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)

Mediterranean gecko? What? But we’re in Texas!

While these are an Old World species, native to Southern Europe and North Africa, Mediterranean geckos have been introduced to many areas of the world, including Texas. They are common around Austin. You’re most likely to see them hanging around homes or apartments at night.

Their scientific name is Hemidactylus turcicus. They are also known as Turkish geckos. It’s not but they were first reported in Brownsville, TX in 1950. The prevailing hypothesis is that they were “hitchhikers” on cargo ships. They have been documented in most major cities in the southern two-thirds of Texas, and can also be found in major cities in other states with regions in the south.

With purplish to tan skin and dark spots, they are striking in appearance. They have large lidless eyes with elliptical pupils. Their bellies also are a little translucent. A weak chemical bond between the gecko’s toes and the surface allows them to cling to upright surfaces. When trapped by a predator, they cast off their tails in defense. The discarded tail wiggles for several minutes, often distracting the predator and giving the gecko time to flee. The gecko will grow a new tail in about three weeks, but this tail is generally shorter than the previous one.

Mediterranean geckos are insectivorous and can be seen around light sources at night, waiting to eat a passing moth. They also eat other small invertebrates like roaches and spiders.

804px Gecko regenerating tail 
 Gecko regenerating a tail. (Photo: FraKctured)

Additionally, they are adept at ambushing prey such as crickets (genus Gryllodes). The gecko is attracted to the call of the male as he chirps from his burrow, safely out of reach. The gecko will wait near the burrow. As the female crickets come by the burrow, however, the gecko will make a meal out of them.

These geckos are very well adapted to living amongst humans, sheltering in cracks and unseen areas of residences during the daylight hours. They are voracious insect eaters, so they often provide a benefit to garden and home owners.    

Males are very territorial and defend their foraging areas. It’s thought that the high-pitched noise these geckos emit might be a male sending out notice to others about his territory, or to deter predators.

These geckos mate from March to July. The females lay two to three clutches per year, and each clutch will have one to two eggs. The females lay hard-shelled eggs under stones, spaces in tree trunks, or in moist soil. The eggs incubate for about 50 days.

Many people in different parts of the world have high regard for geckos. In Turkey and Cyprus it’s taboo to harm the Mediterranean gecko as they are considered good luck.

If you find one in your home, it’s most likely a young one seeking shelter. They may be difficult to catch, but can be moved safely outside as they are not venomous.

Thanks to Dr. Travis Laduc, Curator of the Herpetology Collection, for his edits.  

SOURCES

Brown, Linda. “Beneficials in the Garden: Geckos.” Galveston County Master Gardeners. 2004. (accessed online: https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/beneficials/beneficial-17_lizard_gecko.htm)

Hibbitts, T. D. and T. J. Hibbitts. 2015. Texas Lizards: A Field Guide. University of Texas Press, Austin, Texas. 333 pp.

Mediterranean Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) – Introduced. Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia. (accessed online: https://srelherp.uga.edu/lizards/hemtur.htm)

Mediterranean House Gecko. Texas Invasive Species Institute. Texas State University System. (accessed online: http://www.tsusinvasives.org/home/database/hemidactylus-turcicus)

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