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Geckos

Geckos and girdled lizards are transitional, between the sight hounds and the nose hounds.

Scampering up the wall. Hanging from the ceiling. Plastered against a tree trunk, sound asleep. Many geckos do that--but HOW?

Dr. Kellar Autumn / Lewis & Clark College ©2006

Gecko setae. Click above to watch a video.

Toe Pads

Dozens of flaps of skin on each toe, each with thousands and thousands of tiny hairs, or setae (SEE-tee). Each tiny hair topped with up to a thousand tinier branches. They sometimes add up to a billion--that's right, 1,000,000,000--tiny triangular pads called spatulae (SPAH-choo-lee) that contact the surface whenever a gecko plants its feet.

Madagascan Giant Day Gecko
gecko_grandis_5792f_med.jpg

© AMNH / Denis Finnin

Madagascan Giant Day Gecko

No suction cups, and no glue. So what's the secret of gecko stickiness? Their toes have so many hairlike structures--and each is so small--that they are attracted and held to a surface by the same molecular forces that hold liquids and solids together. Scientists are studying gecko feet in hopes of developing new, reusable adhesives.

Eyes

This gecko has a clear, immovable "spectacle" covering the eye, rather than an eyelid. Notice the pupil--it's round. Geckos active during the day have round pupils; nocturnal geckos have long, narrow pupils like keyholes.

Fast Facts

NAME: Madagascan Giant Day Gecko; Phelsuma madagascariensis grandis
 SIZE: Up to 30 centimeters (12 inches)
 RANGE: Northern Madagascar
 DIET: Insects, fruit, nectar

Common Leaf-Tailed Gecko
gecko_leaf_tail_5684f_med.jpg

© AMNH / Denis Finnin

Common Leaf-tailed Gecko

Eyes

The tiny pinholes in this nocturnal gecko's pupils widen at night when the animal becomes active, to pick up all the available light. A gecko's eyes have many more light-sensitive cells than ours do.

Tail

This flat tail--Uroplatus means "flat tail"--is a fat-storage organ in the Common Leaf-tailed Gecko and many of its relatives. In hard times they draw on it for energy.

Surface

The grays and browns of the Common Leaf-tailed Gecko's scales provide good camouflage. The fringe of skin on the edges of its body also helps the animal disappear by disrupting the outline of its body and reducing or eliminating body shadows.

Fast Facts

NAME: Common Leaf-tailed Gecko; Uroplatus fimbriatus
 SIZE: Up to 30 centimeters (12 inches)
 RANGE: Eastern Madagascar
 DIET: Insects

Meet the Family

The gecko family--Gekkonidae--is huge. It includes about 1,000 species, or well over 10 percent of all squamate species on Earth. And like any big family, it displays a lot of variety-in size, in shape, in lifestyle. Some family members are active at night, and some during the day; some have eyelids, and some don't; some don't even have legs.

American Museum of Natural History

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