If you are planning a visit or to live in Costa Rica, you had best make peace with the local Gecko population. Hearty little lizards, they are ubiquitous throughout the country and although they are not always a welcome sight to all, you need to rethink this as they are actually working on your behalf!
The first encounter I had with Geckos when I arrived to beautiful Costa Rica was at night as we sat quietly rocking our chairs on
the porch enjoying the warm evening tropical breezes. As we watched, the overhead lights literally became the local pub crawl for the Geckos who would happily belly up to the insect bar and make a quick meal of hapless species that sadly were lower on the food chain than these cute little lizards. Although considered nocturnal, that does not mean that these little guys don't work around the clock, as you will likely see them any time of the day or night working on lowering the abundant tropical insect population.
Not previously having planned on my life being inhabited by a flurry of tiny meat eating mini-dinosaurs, it took a little time to get used to my new found friends and embrace their helpful presence which includes them periodically making a sound that is distinctly like they are laughing at you, as well as their constant deposit of poopy gecko presents. I'm not particularly big on that part!
It is said that having Geckos in your house is actually a good omen. Whether that is true or not is up for dispute, but the fact that these lizards are handy little pest controllers is impossible to argue after you have seen them in action.
These little lizards ability to scurry up a wall, hang upside down from a roof or beam, cling to all surface types including wood, glass, metal, plastic, fabric, etc, as well as maneuver on smooth, bumpy or even wet surfaces is bound to make even the biggest lizard skeptic find a new admiration for these versatile little critters.
Happy little guys, if you are sitting around and hear a surprisingly loud laughing sound.....incredibly, its the Geckos! How can you not fall in love with little lizards that laugh while they work? Its really quite astonishing the hearty chuckle that comes from these little reptiles! They are said to make this hee hee hee sound when defending their territory or for calling mates, but sometimes I suspect they are just laughing at me! (Do I sound paranoid?) Click here to hear one!
Geckos are also hearty little pro-creators. The females normally lay two eggs at a time in secure hidden places that can sometimes
include inside an old pair of shoes, between clothes not worn for some time, covey holes of walls and closets, window moldings and any number of surprise spots that the little
white eggs might tumble out of when least expected. Since they will often lay eggs in a community spot for more security, it can be quite a little scrambled egg mess when sliding an unsuspecting foot in the old shoe full of pebble sized eggs. Ew. Just another good reason (excuse?) to wear flip flops daily! Surviving Gecko eggs will take anywhere from 5-8 weeks to incubate, and these little guys can plan on a life span of around 7-9 years total.
Truly one of the most fascinating aspects of the Gecko life is their unique ability to climb and stick to just about anything! Most
people think or assume they have suction toes that allow them to cling. Although some species do, upon closer examination to many of the most common Geckos, they do not have cup shaped toes that allow them to push air out and stick. Okay, so you might think its the power of friction helping them stick to walls, However, that becomes hard to explain when they are hanging completely upside down from the roof and not making any friction. Sticky feet would seem like the most logical answer, however upon scientific study, Geckos don't have any glands to
produce a sticky like substance, so rule that hypothesis out. So how do they do it? Scientists have wondered the same things for years and upon further study they have discovered that the magic lies in the interaction between molecules. Scientists call this the "Van der Waals Force". Say what?? Through further examination, it would appear that each Gecko toe has a network of millions of tiny hairs (Setae) that are tipped with tiny little pads that produce
a molecular reaction that makes those microscopic little pads work like little sticky hooks. Combine that with the recent discovery that these lizards have a special secretial gland that allows them to absorb and secrete liquid at the same time and this combines to make this little fellers even stronger than a steroid soaked bodybuilder training for the Olympics! In fact, Geckos are so strong they can even hang from a single toe!! Quite a feat for such a small creature and even more so for a reptile! I wonder if we should be harnessing this knowledge and ability for more useful purposes in our normal day to day life?
If variety is the spice of life, then there is plenty of spice in Costa Rica! Geckos can be found on almost every continent except Antartica (they're not big on cold), but Costa Rica and its warm temps are definitely the perfect tropical home for these little guys. Of the 750 species found worldwide, Costa Rica boasts 9 Gecko species within its borders. Coming in a variety of colors, sizes and habitats, the only negative thing I can say about the Geckos is they are sadly not potty trained. Depositing their little (and sometimes not so little) white & black poopy pile wherever they desire is definitely one of the negative sides of the whole
Gecko experience. Be forewarned......they have no problem and I suspect may even aim to sometimes leave their "deposit" right on your unsuspecting person. I have been poo bombed by many a Gecko over the many years I have lived in Costa Rica, and though I am not happy about it, when you watch these cute litte guys and their insect killing ability, as well as hear that enthusiastic laugh they share, its hard not to find them to still be one of the more appealing members of the reptile family!
Beyond the Gecko's excellent insect control capabilities, they possess other distinctive characteristics that are rather endearing.
Geckos have the ability to camouflage themselves by changing their colors to help them blend into their environment while hunting for food. They also can change their colors to reflect emotions such as fear, excitement or anger. Therefore, if you see a red faced gecko....I guess it would be best to play it safe and give it a wide berth! Another rather impressive characteristic of the Gecko is their ability to detach their
tail. Got someone hot on your ass? Just detach that tail and leave them something to chew on while you escape to grow a new one. Must be handy, and crooks would love that ability! Lastly, the third amazing characteristic is the ability to change the aperture of the pupil of the eye while in bright
sunlight to be a single vertical row of pinhole openings making the iris resemble the color of their skin. In fact, the majority of Geckos actually lack eyelids and instead have a transparent membrane which they lick to clean. They also possess an incredible night vision capability with their eyes being some 350 times more sensitive to light than the human eye. Pretty handy abilities for increasing their overall Gecko warrior abilities and pretty cool stuff for a mini reptile looking to survive in the Costa Rican jungles (or in my house)!!
So are you impressed yet? Well you should be, as these little creatures have managed to evolve and perfect their talents to become some of the most efficient jungle inhabitats to be found! So on your next vacation, be sure to watch around your Costa Rica hotels, homes, sodas or jungle areas for the opportunity to observe, befriend and photograph your new little lizard companions. Not only will they laugh along with you, but they will make every effort to keep you mosquito bite free! So it just goes to show....it's not just the "Ticos" that are friendly, their lizards are friendly too!! Now that surely is another sign of Pura Vida!!
Kimberly Barron, originally from Malibu, California has lived in Parismina and Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica for 20 years. Starting as a certified tour guide, she spent 15 years managing fishing lodges on the Caribbean Coast and later 4* & 5* Hotels on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Currently semi-retired, Kimberly still works as the Marketing Director for Byblos Resort & Casino and owns her own Costa Rica Vacation Rental Homes business, Manuel Antonio Rental Homes.