12 Surprising Facts About Geckos

These distinctive lizards are full of gripping secrets.

There are more than 1,000 species of gecko around the world. Anouki/Shutterstock

Other than their adhesive feet and lasting fame from a series of car insurance commercials, you probably don't know a whole lot about geckos. And yet this category of more than 1,100 species of lizard is filled with fascinating surprises. Delve into the world of the geckos and learn how they stick to ceilings, fly through trees, change color, and even call to each other with "barks."

1. Geckos' Amazing Toes Help Them Stick to Any Surface Except Teflon

The specialized toe pads of geckos allow them to run along the slick surfaces.
The clingy toe pads of geckos are a major inspiration of biomimicry. nico99/Shutterstock

One of their most famous talents is their ability to scurry along slick surfaces — even glass windows or across ceilings. The only surface that geckos can't stick to is Teflon. Well, dry Teflon. Add water, however, and geckos can stick even to this seemingly impossible surface! They do this through specialized toe pads.

Contrary to popular belief, geckos don’t have “sticky” toes, as if covered with glue. They cling with incredible ease thanks to nanoscale hairs, known as setae, that line every toe in huge numbers. Taken together, the 6.5 million setae on a single gecko can reportedly generate enough force to support the weight of two humans.

This fantastic adaptation of geckos has inspired scientists to look for ways to mimic this cling-ability, improving everything from medical bandages to self-cleaning tires.

2. Geckos' Eyes Are 350 Times More Sensitive to Light Than Human Eyes

Geckos have incredible eyes adapted for night time hunting.
Geckos have incredible eyes adapted for hunting at night. Sebastian Janicki/Shutterstock

Most geckos species are nocturnal, and they are particularly well-adapted to hunting in the dark.

According to a 2009 study of the helmet gecko, “Tarentola chazaliae, discriminates colors in dim moonlight when humans are color blind. The sensitivity of the helmet gecko eye has been calculated to be 350 times higher than human cone vision at the color vision threshold. The optics and the large cones of the gecko are important reasons why they can use color vision at low light intensities.”

While we would hardly be able to make out color at all in dim moonlight, geckos can go about their business in what is, to them, still a colorful world.

3. Geckos Are Able to Produce Various Sounds for Communication, Including Barks, Chirps, and Clicks

Geckos have a powerful bite and a big appetite!
Geckos have more to say than you might think. reptiles4all/Shutterstock

Unlike most lizards, geckos are able to vocalize. They make clicks, chirps,barks, and other sounds to communicate with fellow geckos.

The purpose of the sounds could be to warn away competitors from a territory, to avoid direct fighting, or to attract mates, depending on the species and situation. But if you ever hear an odd chirping in your house at night, you might just have a gecko as a guest.

4. Some Species of Geckos Have No Legs and Look More Like Snakes

Some species in the gecko family lack legs.
Some species in the gecko family lack legs. Shutterstock Premium/Shutterstock

There are upward of 35 lizard species in the Pygopodidae family. This family falls under the clade of Gekkota, which includes six families of geckos. These species — all of which are endemic to Australia and New Guinea — lack forelimbs and have only vestigial hind limbs that look more like flaps. The species are usually called legless lizards, snake lizards or, thanks to those flap-like back feet, flap-footed lizards.

Like other species of gecko, pygopods can vocalize, emitting high-pitched squeaks for communication. They also have stand-out hearing, and are capable of hearing tones higher than those detectable by any other reptile species.

5. Most Geckos Can Detach Their Tails and Regrow Them

Geckos can ditch their tails as a strategy for escaping predators.
Geckos can ditch their tails as a strategy for escaping predators. Matt Jeppson/Shutterstock

Like many species of lizard, geckos are able to drop their tails as a response to predation. When a gecko is grabbed, the tail drops off and continues to twitch and thrash about, providing a great distraction that might allow the gecko to escape from a hungry predator. Geckos also drop their tails as a response to stress, infection, or if the tail itself is grabbed.

Amazingly, geckos drop their tails along a pre-scored or “dotted line,” so to speak. It's a design that allows a gecko to lose its tail quickly and with minimal damage to the rest of its body.

A gecko can regrow its dropped tail, though the new tail will likely be shorter, more blunt, and colored a bit differently than the original tail. The crested gecko is one species that cannot regrow its tail; once it's gone, it's gone.

6. Geckos Use Their Tails to Store Fat and Nutrients for Lean Times

This leggy guy is a lined flat-tail gecko.
This leggy guy is a lined flat-tail gecko. reptiles4all/Shutterstock

Losing a tail isn't a favorable event for a gecko, not only because it's an energy-intensive process to regrow a whole tail, but also because a gecko stores nutrients and fat in its tail as a protection against times when food is scarce.

Because of this, for many species a plump, well-rounded tail is a good way to gauge the individual gecko's health. Depending on the species, a thin tail might indicate starvation or illness.

7. Geckos Can Live a Long, Long Time

Geckos range in life span depending on the species, but many will live around five years in the wild. Several species that are popular as pets, however, can live quite a bit longer.

In captivity, a well-tended gecko can live between 10 to 20 years. Leopard geckos average between 15 to 20 years, though the longest lived individual is recorded at 27 years old.

8. Most Species of Gecko Don’t Have Eyelids, So They Lick Their Eyes to Clean Them

Geckos lick their eyes to clean them because most species lack eyelids.
If you didn't have eyelids, you might resort to this solution, too. Ian Schofield/Shutterstock

Perhaps one of the oddest facts about geckos is that most species lack eyelids. Because they cannot blink, they lick their eyes to keep them clean and moist. (Well, technically, they're licking the transparent membrane that covers the eyeball.)

9. Geckos Are Masters of Color

Find the gecko! Some species of gecko stand out with bright colors while others blend perfectly into their surroundings.
Find the gecko! Some species of gecko stand out with bright colors while others blend perfectly into their surroundings. Shutterstock Premium/Shutterstock

It’s not only chameleons that can change color to match their surroundings. Geckos can, too. What’s more, they can blend into their environment without even seeing their surroundings!

In studying Moorish geckos Domenico Fulgione and his team discovered that it isn’t their vision that the geckos use to blend in, but rather the skin of their torso. They sense, rather than see, their surroundings to camouflage themselves, using light-sensitive proteins in the skin known as opsins.

Other species of gecko are particularly adapted to blend in with their habitat based on their skin patterns, which make them look like lichen, textured rock or moss, such as the mossy leaf-tailed gecko, the Wyberba leaf-tailed gecko pictured above, or the satanic leaf-tailed gecko, pictured below.

10. The Satanic Leaf Gecko Perfectly Mimics Dead Leaves

The satanic leaf tailed gecko is one truly bizarre lizard.
The satanic leaf-tailed gecko is one truly bizarre lizard. Ryan M. Bolton/Shutterstock

Speaking of, this species is worth discussing, since few geckos are so incredibly well adapted to look exactly like a leaf — and a demonic leaf, at that! This species of gecko looks identical to dry leaves found on the forest floor or even among branches, right down to the veined skin and the insect-nibbled notches.

Endemic to Madagascar, the species relies on this uncanny resemblance to dead leaves to escape the detection of predators. To complete the masquerade, satanic leaf-tailed geckos will even hang from branches to look like a leaf curling away from a stem.

Ultimately, the satanic leaf-tailed gecko is a stand-out creature that you’d be hard-pressed to locate!

11. Some Geckos Can Glide Through the Air

A gliding gecko uses its webbed skin to "fly" from tree to tree.
A gliding gecko uses its webbed skin to 'fly' from tree to tree. NeagoneFo/Shutterstock

The flying gecko, or parachute gecko, is a genus of arboreal gecko species found in Southeast Asia. While they aren’t capable of independent flight, they get their name from their ability to glide using the flaps of skin found on their feet and their flat, rudder-like tails.

The flying gecko can glide up to 200 feet (60 meters) in a single bound, despite measuring only about 6 to 8 inches (15 to 20 cm) in body length.

These geckos, while skittish, are relatively popular in the pet trade.

12. The Smallest Gecko Species Is Less Than 2 Centimeters in Length

Geckos vary in size, but the most diminutive of species can fit on a dime. The Jaragua sphaero, or dwarf gecko, is one of the world's smallest reptiles. This and another gecko species, S. parthenopion, measure just 0.63 inches (1.6 cm) in length from snout to tail. The small gecko has an equally small range, as it's believed to be limited to only the Jaragua National Park in the Dominican Republic, and Beata Island.

View Article Sources
  1. Stark, A. Y. et al. "Reduction Of Water Surface Tension Significantly Impacts Gecko Adhesion Underwater". Integrative And Comparative Biology, vol 54, no. 6, 2014, pp. 1026-1033. Oxford University Press (OUP), doi:10.1093/icb/icu066

  2. Roth, L. S. V. et al. "The Pupils And Optical Systems Of Gecko Eyes". Journal Of Vision, vol 9, no. 3, 2009, pp. 27-27. Association For Research In Vision And Ophthalmology (ARVO), doi:10.1167/9.3.27