When we first moved to Anna Maria Island ten years ago, we had some trepidation about what the locals euphemistically called “critters.” We had never lived in a tropical environment. We loved the thought of tropical vegetation, but we knew that in any healthy ecosystem, tropical vegetation attracts and hosts a large number of creatures, many of them with more than two legs.
We have been happily surprised not to come across giant spiders; not to be overrun by palmetto bugs (a.k.a. large roaches); not to have rats emerge through the toilet or nest in our walls. Most of the critters that live around us actually add a positive side to our life here. The occasional egret staring at us through the window, and the antics of a squirrel hoping for a walnut are very entertaining. The reclusive frog behind our garage shutter has been a constant quiet neighbor for many years. Our only interaction with it was at the time we had the house tented by exterminators. For its protection tried to relocate the frog into the banana grove on the edge of our property. Every time I carried it across the yard to this safe place it managed to return to behind the shutter surprisingly quickly. (I had to relocate it a final time right before the tent went up.)
Lizards are one of the most welcomed critters on our property, because we often see them chasing and eating palmetto bugs. I’ve never been completely clear about the distinction or relationship between geckos and small lizards. I suppose I could look it up, but for the purposes of this commentary, I’d like to describe what I see at my island home. There are many small lizards running around the yard. They vary quite a bit in terms of markings and color. They are no bigger than five inches long at maturity. They clearly prefer being outdoors and rarely end up in the house. These lizards are more angular and less flat than what I think of as geckos.
Another difference between our resident lizards and geckos is that geckos seem to want to be in the house. We rarely see them in the yard. In fact, we rarely see them anywhere, but, when we do, it’s usually on a wall or window. When it’s an inside wall, we are distressed, for the sake of the gecko. We wonder whether it will have enough to eat in the house. And, if it does, we don’t like the thought of its excrement. So we relocate it outdoors, which is no small feat. A plastic cup to cover it, with a piece of cardboard to slide under the cup, usually works well.
When a gecko visits the outside of the house, especially on a window, we are free to simply admire its beauty and amazing ability to cling to glass. The very fine hairs on the bottom of its feet are what enable it to do this. According to W. R. Hansen and K. Autumn in their 2005 article “Evidence for self-cleaning in gecko setae,” a gecko can support about eight times its weight hanging from just one toe on smooth glass. The only known surface to which geckos cannot adhere is Teflon.
A visit from a gecko is, indeed, a good reason to pause and appreciate the diversity of the life around us.