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GECKO, [1] the common name applied to all the species of the Geckones, one of the three sub-orders of the Lacertilia. The geckoes are small creatures, seldom exceeding 8 in. in length including the tail. With the head considerably flattened, the body short and thick, the legs not high enough to prevent the body dragging somewhat on the ground, the eyes large and almost destitute of eyelids, and the tail short and in some cases nearly as thick as the body, the geckoes altogether lack the litheness and grace characteristic of most lizards. Their colours also are dull, and to the weird and forbidding aspect thus produced the general prejudice against those creatures in the countries where they occur, which has led to their being classed with toads and snakes, is no doubt to be attributed. Their bite was supposed to be venomous, and their saliva to produce painful cutaneous eruptions; even their touch was thought sufficient to convey a dangerous taint. It is needless to say that in this instance the popular mind was misled by appearances. The geckoes are not only harmless, but are exceedingly useful creatures, feeding on insects, which, owing to the great width of their oesophagus, they are enabled to swallow whole, and in pursuit of which they do not hesitate to enter human dwellings, where they are often killed on suspicion. The structure of the toes in these lizards forms one of their most characteristic anatomical features.

Leaf-tailed Gecko (Gymnodactylus platurus) of Australia.

Lower Surface of the Toe of (a) Gecko, (b) Hemidactylus - enlarged.

Most geckoes have adhesive digits and toes, by means of which they are enabled not only to climb absolutely smooth and vertical surfaces, for instance a window-pane, but to run along a white-washed ceiling, back downwards. The adhesion is not produced by sticky matter but by numerous transverse lamellae, each of which is further beset with tiny hair-like excrescences. The arrangement of the lamellae and pads differs much in the various genera and is used for classificatory purposes. Those which live on sandy ground have narrow digits without the adhesive apparatus. Most species have sharp, curved claws, often retractile between some of the lamellae or into a special sheath. The tail is very brittle and can be quickly regenerated; it varies much in size and shape; the most extraordinary is that of the leaf-tailed gecko. Ptychozoon homalocephalon of the Malay countries has membranous expansions on the sides of the head, body, limbs and tail, which look like parachutes, but more probably they aid in concealing the creature when it is closely pressed to the similarly coloured bark of a tree. Most geckoes are dull coloured, yellow to brown, and they soon change colour from lighter to dark tints. They are insectivorous and chiefly nocturnal, but are fond of basking in the Sun, motionless on the bark of a tree, or on a rock the colour of which is then imitated to a nicety. Some species are more or less transparent.

Geckoes, of which about 270 species are known, subdivided into about 50 genera, are cosmopolitan within the warmer zones, including New Zealand, and even the remotest volcanic islands. This wide distribution is due partly to the great age of the suborder (although fossils are unknown), partly to their being able to exist for several months without food so that, concealed in hollow trunks of trees, they may float about for a very long time. Ships, also, act as distributors. In south Europe occur only Hemidactylus turcicus, Tarentola mauritanica (Platydactylus facetanus) and Phyllodactylus europaeus.

[1] The Malay name gē-koq imitates the animal's cry.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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