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What are Geckos?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 21, 2024
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Geckos are lizards in the family Gekkonidae. There are over 300 known species of geckos found distributed in the tropical and subtropical areas of the world, and these small lizards are incredibly diverse. Several species are kept as pets, such as the tiger gecko, and many more are often on display at museums and zoos which specialize in lizards, for people who are interested in seeing a gecko in person.

The name “gecko” comes from an Indonesian word, gekok, which is imitative of the distinctive cry that geckos make. Geckos are unique among the lizards because they communicate through vocalizations, using a range of chirps to exchange information with each other. In fact, in some areas of the world, the noises of geckos are considered to be a nuisance, as they can get quite noisy. Visitors to the tropics are often surprised to learn that the source of these sometimes astoundingly loud chirps is the humble gecko.

Members of this family have a another very distinctive feature. The four to five feet of a gecko, depending on the species, have very fine bristles which are tipped with suction-cup like structures. These bristles allow geckos to scuttle straight up walls, tree trunks, and other smooth surfaces, and they are a distinct advantage in hunting; in the tropics, geckos can often be found hanging out on the ceiling near lights, for example, waiting for insects to get close.

Most geckos have stocky, squat bodies, and some are able to regenerate their thick tails if they are injured. These reptiles typically lay eggs, and they are carnivorous, preferring small animals like insects to eat. Many geckos are brightly colored to blend in with the tropical environment, and some are actually able to change color to blend in with their surroundings, another advantage for geckos on the hunt.

There are a number of different types of gecko. The largest of the geckos is the tokay gecko, which also happens to be quite aggressive. Banded geckos from the American Southwest have claws instead of toes, while so-called flying geckos have flaps of skin which they can use to glide, living an arboreal lifestyle. The house gecko lives in homes all over the tropics, eating insects to earn its keep, and the gold dust day gecko can be found out and about during the day, a somewhat unusual state of affairs for a normally nocturnal creature.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly are geckos?

Geckos are small to medium-sized lizards belonging to the family Gekkonidae, which is unique for their vocalizations, which differ from other lizard families. They are known for their remarkable adhesive toe pads that allow them to climb smooth and vertical surfaces, and they have a wide range of habitat preferences, from rainforests to deserts.

How many species of geckos are there?

There are over 1,600 species of geckos distributed across the globe, according to the Reptile Database. This diversity makes them one of the most varied groups of lizards, with new species still being discovered. Their adaptability to various environments contributes to their vast number and widespread presence.

Can geckos really walk on walls and ceilings?

Yes, geckos have specialized toe pads that allow them to walk on walls and ceilings. These pads contain thousands of tiny hair-like structures called setae, which create molecular attractions with surfaces, a phenomenon known as van der Waals forces. This adhesion capability enables them to climb and stick to even the smoothest surfaces.

Do geckos have good eyesight?

Geckos are renowned for their exceptional eyesight, which is among the best in the reptile world. Nocturnal species have large, sensitive eyes that can gather ample light, making them excellent night hunters. Diurnal geckos, on the other hand, have keen color vision to discern their environment and detect prey during the day.

What do geckos typically eat?

Geckos are generally insectivores, preying on insects and other small invertebrates. Some larger species may also consume fruit, nectar, and even small vertebrates. Their diet can vary based on their environment and species, but their hunting strategy often involves ambushing or stalking their prey with precision.

Are geckos beneficial to humans?

Geckos are indeed beneficial to humans as they help control insect populations, including mosquitoes and other pests. By naturally managing these insect populations, geckos can reduce the spread of diseases and minimize the need for chemical pesticides. Additionally, their unique adhesive abilities are inspiring biomimetic research in the field of adhesion technology.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Learn more
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