Reptile Of The Week: Gekko gecko – The Tokay Gecko
Gekko gecko, the bulldog of the gecko world, is one of my favourites and yet another reptile described by Linnaeus in 1758. Two subspecies are now recognized:
G. g. gecko – found from India to Indonesia.
G. g. azhari – found in Bangladesh.
The Tokay has been both prospering and suffering from human activities which makes it an interesting reptile to study. They eat pests such as cockroaches and locusts, and many Asians believe they bring good luck, fortune and fertility. However, they can be downright nasty and deliver one of the most frightening bites you may be unlucky enough to experience. I’ve been bitten once before, and it is pretty horrific for such a small animal. But despite their bad temper and threat of a terrible bite, they are absolute stunners, just take a look!
The Tokay is a very large gecko, one of the largest in the world, with a body length of about 35 cm. They display some typical gecko traits such as a large head and huge, prominent eyes. Like the Tuatara mentioned in an earlier blog entry, they have the remains of a rudimentary third eye which now seems to be used to coordinate their activity according to light conditions. They have the usual small holes for ears and it is actually possible to see straight through one ear and out the other!
While most geckos change their colour to display emotion, the Tokay dulls and brightens its shades in order to blend in with the environment. These critters are mostly grey through to blue with spots and flecks which range from brown to red. The skin is very soft and velvety. Like closely related species, the Tokay has folds of skin which enable it to stick to a tree without casting any shadow. Impressive adaptation!
This gecko is a very vocal animal. The common name “Tokay” actually comes from the call they make. They live solitary lives until they find a mate, and both the male and female guard their precious eggs together until they hatch. Unlike most geckos, Tokays will defend their territory not only from other geckos, but from anything! They don’t realise their size.
When a Tokay bites, it doesn’t let go for hours. The jaw locks and they make hideous sounds while staring at you with terrifyingly large eyes. It is quite a shocking sight, but you cannot get away as they don’t let go easily. The bite is extremely painful. The easiest way to get them off is to submerge them in water, and they will usually give up rather than drown. Some inexperienced keepers attempt to use vinegar or alcohol but this can kill the gecko and you will be left with a dead reptile still attached to your body. If this happens, you may have to rip the skull apart in order to detach it from yourself. I actually know of people who have buried their dead Tokays with gloves still trapped in their jaws.
In the late 80s and early 90s, the Tokay was introduced to Hawaii, Florida, Texas, Belize and the Caribbean islands and it is now considered an invasive species in these locations. Natively, they are mostly found from northeast India through Asia all the way to Indonesia and western New Guinea. They normally live in ranforests, climbing the trees and cliffs, but in recent years they have experienced rural human habitations taking hold in the areas they used to occupy. This has had a positive and negative effect on their populations. Humans have been destroying their natural habitats which has reduced the Tokay’s range, but the increasing urbanization has provided something positive for them too: a feeding ground. The artificial lights attract many large insects and many populations of Tokay have taken advantage of the fact that these rural human habitations provide a constant supply of easy-to-find insects.
As well as in myths and legends, Tokays are often seen in popular culture, especially in certain parts of Asia. Fans of the Legend of Zelda series of computer games may also remember the Tokay race of lizards that would battle you with swords.
The Tokay has not been given any special conservation status.