These roaming exhibits we call geckos, keep the walls of our houses interesting as they are constantly reshuffling themselves and leaving their silhouettes on display.
The Portuguese call them ‘osgas’, which might explain why some English people choose to call the one that lives in their house ‘Oscar’ (I’ve also known people who called theirs ‘Gordon’, and when I asked why, all they would tell me is that “He works on Wall-street”). Of the over 1,500 species of gecko in the world, only two live with us here in Portugal.
There’s the larger and lighter Moorish geckos (Tarentola mauritanica) or crocodile gecko, and the Mediterranean house gecko (Hemidactylus turcicus) also known as the Turkish gecko or even moon lizard.
Unbelievably though, these brilliant little reptiles get a bad rap. Lots of Portuguese people don’t like them, and I’ve known many a Portuguese maid, who, ironically, seeing as they must come across them more than anyone, are afraid of them. This is mainly due to rumours that started centuries ago and that have been passed down through the generations.
They tell tales of their tails (isn’t English fun?) falling into a teapot and poisoning the whole family, or of them crawling over people while they sleep and causing a rash. None of these things are true. They aren’t poisonous, and they are actually pretty handy to have around. I mean they catch mosquitoes, how can you possibly not like anybody who does that? But it just shows you how stigmas can stick, almost as well as geckos can to walls.
‘Almost’, and that’s a good segue into the first of the geckos’ incredible powers: they can cling to walls. This amazing gravity-defying feat is thanks largely to, well.. yes, their ‘feet’. They have lots (and lots) of tiny hairs called setae on their toes. These hairs allow them to get so close to the contours of the walls, that as far as I can understand, a magic force called the Van der Waals effect kicks in (although, I think we can all agree it should have been called the ‘on’ der Waals effect), and allows them to create a bond with the surface they are on. So, there you go, they aren’t sticky like you might have thought, they just hang there by their toe hairs (that’s a whole lot more useful than my toe hairs are).
But geckos’ powers don’t stop there. Say they are being chased by a cat, dog, snake, owl, rat, bat, or even chicken (see, they’ve already got enough problems without us not liking them) they simply ‘deploy their tail’, which acts as a decoy, twitching and flitting about while they
(hopefully) make their getaway. But here’s the really impressive part: they can then grow it back. This they can do in as little as 30 days.
But still, it never grows back quite as good as the original, and since they use their tails as a sort of larder to store their fat and water, I’m sure they don’t take kindly to being spooked unnecessarily.
Word of warning, don’t ever try to have a staring competition with a gecko, I guarantee you will blink first. You see, geckos don’t have eyelids. Instead, they have a clear membrane that shields their eyes and their tongues act like the windscreen wipers on our cars, swiping over them to keep them clean. And before you think “Jeez, imagine not being able to close your eyes, ever”, they have vertical pupils that can almost entirely overlap, and so they block out the world that way.
Geckos rely heavily on their eyesight and can see very well, especially in dim light. This is because they are mainly nocturnal creatures, and spend their nights on the prowl looking for insects. They’ve worked out, and this is another reason they like living with us, that if they hang out next to our night lights the moths and other insects will simply come to them. They catch anybody who flutters too close with their sticky tongues and gobble them down whole. They have around 100 tiny little teeth that also have the magic power of regeneration, and get replaced every few months.
Another way geckos are different from other lizards is that they can be proper little chatterboxes. Most lizards don’t say very much (although some might have the occasional ‘hissy’ fit). Geckos, on the other hand, bark and click, and squeak and chirp, and make all sorts of noises. But the sound I personally hear them make the most, I would describe as a sort of chuckle. I like to think that they are chatting up potential mates, and it’s going well.
And, if it goes REALLY well, then once a year the female gecko will lay two small eggs in a secluded location. But then, like most lizards, she has a rather lazy, laissez-faire approach to parenting, and simply leaves them there and never comes back. The adorable tiny babies have to make their way in the big bad world all on their own. Gecko’s normally live for about four years (if they manage to get over their abandonment issues, and their tails work, of course).
As you can see, these incredible little wall crawlers are really quite magical, with some truly amazing powers. They are like little superheroes, and they are here to help you. Be proud to have them on display in your home exhibition. They are your very own moving picture dragons, emblazoning your walls.