There was a tragedy last week – one that could have been avoided with a bit more care.
It’s the time of year when days are warm and nights are chilly. And in these conditions one of the least visible of my year-round residents becomes more visible, starts taking risks. And sometimes meets a bad end.
There are many kinds of gecko in the world, but one that commonly occurs here in north Texas is the Mediterranean House Gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus). The Mediterranean gecko is a relatively small, 4 - 5 in (10 - 13 cm), species that has become ubiquitous in certain areas of the United States. Unlike any native lizard, geckos have sticky toe pads, vertical pupils, and their large eyes lack eyelids. These geckos are generally light gray or almost white in color (they look like tiny “ghost lizards”) but may have some darker mottling. The Mediterranean gecko can usually be found preying on insects near external houselights or other forms of lighting on warm nights. When it gets cold, they creep into warmer areas like crawl spaces under houses through foundation cracks or vents. On my church building we often see them over the entry door, catching bugs attracted by the light. My son has often found them hiding under the cover of an outside electrical outlet next to his garage door that has a floodlight immediately overhead.
Due to their ability to breed rapidly and strong resistance to pesticides, the Mediterranean gecko has been able to establish steady populations all along the Southern United States. Throughout Texas there are strong breeding populations of Mediterranean geckos found around cities, especially the Houston area, but there are major gaps in the population range through the western parts of Texas and into the panhandle. This leads scientists to believe that the Mediterranean gecko may need human structures and possibly cannot survive in dense native forests.
A nocturnal species, Hemidactylus turcicus can be found in cracks and crevices, either man-made or natural, throughout the day, emerging at night to feed on insects and other invertebrates. But when chilly nights come along, they like to sun themselves mornings on warm walls or masonry surfaces like patios and steps.
Bottom line is, geckos here in Texas may exist in your house and surroundings for years and not even be seen. Unless you have cats. Cats respond to motion. And when geckos come out of their hiding crevices (as narrow as a quarter of an inch or even smaller) cats see the movement and pounce. And play.
My introduction to the geckos in my house was years ago when I found a wriggling bit of “stuff” in my hallway – a gecko tail that had been shed in the manner many lizards have – shedding their tails to distract predators, then fleeing while the predator is dealing with the still-wriggling tail. Later (if they survive) they grow a new tail. Presumably there had been a cat encounter, although the cats weren’t talking.
So I’ve known for at least 20 years that I have geckos in my house, but they’re so secretive and small I tend to forget them – until they draw attention to themselves without meaning to. Last week on Wednesday I opened my car door and found a gecko running way across the floor mat in front. How it got inside I don’t know, but suspect there was a crack around the door seal large enough for it to squeeze through. Having sticky toes, it would have had no difficult climbing up onto the car from the concrete driveway. I spent several minutes peering under seats and turning up floor mats, but failed to find it, so I just went on my errand, figuring it would eventually find its way out the same way it got in.
When I got home, I searched a bit more before giving up, then went into the house and decided it was time to replenish my hummingbird feeder. That involves going down the steps to my patio, walking carefully into a narrow disused flower bed next to the house wall, reaching down the feeder from an overhead hook, then reversing my path.
But when I reversed path, looking carefully where I was stepping so as not to fall down, I saw something wriggling on the concrete patio surface. I was greatly saddened to discover I had inadvertently trod on a gecko and it was “beyond repair”. Even the gecko’s powers of tail shedding and regrowing part of its body wouldn’t save it this time.
I’m very sensitive to my relationship with the world around me. This accident really “got” to me. Carelessness about another life form while on a mission to help yet another life form had led to my causing a death in the world that could have been avoided.
I did the only thing I could think of at the time – I placed the still moving body on some loamy soil in the flower bed and gently covered it with loose loam. Nature would take care of the rest.
I can only hope the gecko in my car managed a safe getaway. And stayed away from cats and errant human feet.