Twice a year I get calls and letters about geckos.
It’s the time of year when they start coming into your house looking for a place to spend the cold months. In the spring, they start hanging around your windows and doors looking for something to eat.
The Mediterranean house gecko is an import, probably on cargo ships around World War II. Of course, in the 1950s and ’60s geckos of all sorts were sold as pets. In Mississippi, we have our own native species of gecko.
What distinguishes the Mediterranean from the local species is their amazing ability to cling to almost any surface. They can scoot about horizontally, vertically, right-side-up or up-side-down. This ability has attracted scientific interest. If you take a close look at them, you’ll see they have short, wide, flesh toes with layers of microscopic pads that act like a sort of velcro.
There are tens of thousands of hair-like bristles on each pad and each of those bristles are covered by even smaller scales. Combined, they form a end of gecko glue. This means when a gecko’s toe comes in contact with any type surface, the pads form a bond called Van der Waals force.
Research is now underway to study this phenomena and scientists are confident that they will soon come up with a new type of adhesive that will stick to wet or dry surfaces from deep beneath the ocean to the vacuum of outer space.
Personally, I like geckos. If you don’t agree with my personal preferences, there are some things you can do to reduce their presence. First, turn off your outside lights. Lights attract insects and insects attract geckos. If for some reason you have an outside light on at night, switch to the old-fashioned yellow bulb.
The frequency of the light emitted by these bulbs isn’t attractive to insects. So are the more expensive sodium-vapor lights. Without insects fluttering around your door, the geckos will go elsewhere for food. Geckos are marvelous at catching food. But they aren’t too bright. It may take a while before they realize the gravy train has pulled out of the station and must move on.
If you still have them hanging around, just relax. A gecko’s favorite munchie is a young, fat and juicy cockroach. A zoo in Devon England uses geckos to control pests in their greenhouses. They have been so successful that the zoo hasn’t had to use any pesticides since the geckos were introduced.
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.