This list of gecko facts reveals the multifaceted nature of these reptiles. Geckos possess intriguing qualities beyond their colorful and diverse appearances. Many species exist worldwide, like Moorish geckos, the lizard gecko, the leaf-tailed gecko, and the parachute gecko. Moreover, the dwarf gecko is the world's smallest gecko (also the smallest lizard), measuring only 0.6 inches and weighing only 120 milligrams.
Furthermore, their feet have hair-like structures, called setae, that allow them to traverse various surfaces, including smooth ones like glass. Geckos live on every continent except Antarctica. There are also diurnal geckos (day geckos) and nocturnal ones. Join us as we explore these facts about geckos in more detail.
Geckos can stick to almost any surface due to the pads on their feet, covered in tiny hairs called setae4. Each seta branches into thousands of smaller tips, creating a microscopic network on each foot. This broad contact area allows geckos to exploit intermolecular attraction, namely van der Waals forces, to cling onto slick surfaces.
However, due to the angle of their setae, geckos can move effortlessly across smooth surfaces as if they were ice-skating. When a gecko lifts its foot, the setae peel away from the surface, preventing them from sticking too firmly.
Additionally, the setae are self-cleaning; they can quickly shake off dirt and water to maintain their sticky feet. They can walk on vertical surfaces and hang from the ceiling with a single toe.
Next on our gecko facts list: Geckos' colorful skin patterns help them blend into their surroundings and avoid predators. For example, leopard geckos can disappear into diverse landscapes due to their effective camouflage. Like the leopard gecko, the Satanic leaf-tailed gecko's leafy design is a purposeful disguise rather than a fashion statement.
Geckos also communicate with other geckos through their skin patterns, influencing their social interactions. For instance, a male gecko with a more vivid skin pattern is likelier to attract a potential mate. Moreover, their skin patterns can also convey emotional states, such as aggression or submission.
Geckos have a transparent membrane covering their eyes, a protective layer that enhances their vision. So, geckos do not blink; instead, this membrane shields their eyes and gives them an unobstructed view of their environment.
Moreover, geckos clean their eyes by licking, removing unwanted particles like humans using windshield wipers in a rainstorm. Additionally, licking helps keep a gecko's pupils moist, which is critical given their desert habitats.
Further, researchers have found that gecko saliva may have antimicrobial properties, an additional defense against potential infections.
When faced with danger, geckos can detach their tails voluntarily through a phenomenon known as autotomy. The gecko removes its tail when the predator grabs it. Then, the dropped tail wriggles fiercely to distract the attacker, allowing the gecko to escape.
Afterward, the gecko regenerates its thin tail by forming a blastema cluster of cells. These cells gradually build a foundation for the new tail, one cell at a time. Although the new tail may differ in shape, color, and texture, the gecko can still function normally with its new tail2.
Tail regeneration takes time; it can vary depending on the gecko's age, health, and species. It may take a few weeks to several months to complete. Despite being a slow process, geckos can adapt to their new limb as it grows back. Further, geckos store fat in their tails.
Geckos communicate by producing unique vocalizations, including clicks, barks, and chirps. These sounds are part of a common language that unifies most species. Besides vocalizations, geckos rely on visual cues or body language.
Geckos produce these sounds to claim territory or attract mates. It can bark at threats encroaching on its territory. Conversely, when seeking a mate, a gecko will produce soft and rhythmic chirps, similar to a love song.
Female geckos commonly lay eggs, with some exceptions. For example, the New Caledonian gecko–the world's largest gecko–delivers live offspring through ovoviviparity, where the geckos' eggs develop and hatch inside the mother. Only a few geckos demonstrate this ability.
Upon delivery, the hatchlings look identical to their parents, though they also have distinct skin patterns. Despite their size, young geckos show impressive independence and readiness for life.
One interesting gecko fact is that not all geckos have legs. Consider the Pygopodidae family, a distinct group within the Gekkota clade, comprising over 35 gecko species native to Australia and New Guinea. How are they different from other geckos?
The Pygopodidae have no limbs; they have zero forelimbs, while their hindlimbs are non-functioning, like flaps. Due to their unique anatomy, they are more like legless lizards, snake lizards, or flap-footed lizards than common geckos.
Apart from the lack of limbs, the Pygopodidae can communicate through high-pitched squeals, like most geckos. Notably, the legless Pygopodidae can detect higher-frequency sounds.
The flying gecko is native to the rich vegetation of Southeast Asia. Despite its name, though, this species of gecko does not fly. Instead, the skin flaps on its feet, and its flat tail helps the tiny six-inch lizard glide across distances of 200 feet.
Flying geckos are typically cautious; they will glide immediately upon sensing danger. While they are popular pets, they remain mysterious reptiles due to their ability to camouflage in their natural habitat.
Related read: Flying Spiders - Can Spiders Fly?
Geckos live everywhere, including in Asia and Africa. In Asian cultures, particularly in China and Japan, the gecko symbolizes prosperity and good luck. Their ability to regenerate their tails shows endurance, rebirth, and the will to survive1. Eastern cultures consider them harmless animals and welcome houseguests because geckos eat insects. (Diurnal geckos eat fruits and flower nectar.)
However, the nocturnal geckos have gained a less favorable reputation in the West and Africa. Seeing a gecko crawling at night can cause concern, for they foretell a possible illness or death. Additionally, some African regions connect the gecko's ability to climb walls and ceilings to the supernatural or witchcraft.
Many geckos face significant threats, including habitat loss and the pet trade, the main culprits in their decline3. Some geckos are critically endangered, like the Australian Gulbaru gecko.
Humans destroy forests for urbanization and agricultural expansion, driving geckos closer to extinction. Moreover, geckos are popular species in the global pet trade. Their unique patterns and behavior raise the demand for geckos as exotic pets. So, hunters illegally remove these lizards from their natural habitats, disrupting their ecosystem.
Fortunately, conservationists are creating protected areas, increasing captive breeding programs, and advocating for stricter regulations on the pet trade. Nevertheless, the conservation of geckos requires a global response.
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Related: To further explore the animal kingdom, check out some of the other animals that start with G.
Alibardi, L. (2010). Morphological and cellular aspects of tail and limb regeneration in lizards. A model system with implications for tissue regeneration in mammals. Advances in Anatomy, Embryology, and Cell Biology, 207, 1–109.
McLean, K. E., & Vickaryous, M. K. (2011). A novel amniote model of epimorphic regeneration: the leopard gecko, Eublepharis macularius. BMC developmental biology, 11(1), 50.
Auliya, M., Altherr, S., Ariano-Sanchez, D., Baard, E. H., Brown, C., Brown, R. M., ... & Cantu, J. C. (2016). Trade in live reptiles, its impact on wild populations, and the role of the European market. Biological Conservation, 204, 103-119.
Autumn, K., Liang, Y. A., Hsieh, S. T., Zesch, W., Chan, W. P., Kenny, T. W., ... & Full, R. J. (2000). Adhesive force of a single gecko foot-hair. Nature, 405(6787), 681-685.