Geckos might be creepy but they're beneficial

By Tim Lockley

The Mediterranean gecko is an import. It arrived here around World War II, probably on cargo ships. In the 1950s and '60s, they (along with other geckos) were sold as pets. They now are well established along the Gulf Coast and are happily hanging around our homes, gulping down any bug that gets too close.

Unfortunately for these little guys, many people have an inordinate fear of them and overreact to their presence. The fear is completely unreasonable. Geckos don't have fangs. They don't bite people. They don't have stingers. All they do is hang around our doors and windows, eating insects. In fact, their favorite meal seems to be tender, young cockroaches. For that alone, we should welcome them to our homes.

The problem is not with their activity but their inactivity. Unlike their cousins the skinks and anoles, the Mediterranean gecko is nocturnal. They like to hang around our outdoor lights where their food gathers. When the sun shows up, they wedge themselves into nooks and crannies, like the space between the door and the door frame. On occasion, this will result in the guiltless gecko being dislodged from its resting place, causing it to plunge downward. Once in a while, the gecko winds up landing on top of the person coming through the door.

I suppose having the cold, sticky toes of a gecko grabbing onto your hair or exposed skin can cause a degree of panic. And, if they manage to get under your clothing, the ensuing dance macabre could be somewhat embarrassing if observed by friends and family. But my suggestion is to live and let live when it comes to these creatures.

Personally, I like the little fellas and think they're kind of cute. If you don't agree with my assessment and want to do something about reducing your risk of coming into cold-blooded contact with them, the solution is simple. Turn off your outdoor lights. Lights attract insects and insects attract hungry geckos.

If you can't manage without an outdoor light, switch bulbs. The old-fashioned yellow bulb works quite well. The light frequency generated by yellow bulbs isn't attractive to insects. The same can be said of sodium vapor lights, but they cost more.

Without insects fluttering around your door, the geckos will move on to happier hunting grounds. It won't happen overnight. It will take a while before they realize that their meal ticket is no longer being punched, but eventually, they will leave.

In the meantime, either be careful when you open the door in the morning or send someone less squeamish out first.

Tim Lockley, a specialist in entomology, is retired from a 30-year career as a research scientist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For answers to individual questions, please send a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Tim Lockley, c/o Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535.