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Geckos -Tails to Toepads

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We know from the Geiko commercials that they're cute; but even without the witty banter, the geckos at the Academy of Natural Sciences are adorable, fascinating and a must-see this summer for families and reptile enthusiasts. And, oh right, these guys are the real deal. With over 75 live geckos, the exhibit lets you get amazing views of the little lizards and even get some first-hand knowledge of what geckos are all about through interactive programs and the knowledgeable gecko-keeper, Zach Marchetti.   

Academy of Natural Sciences

So what is a gecko precisely? “There are no black and white rules as to what a gecko is,” explained Zach Marchetti, gecko-keeper extraordinaire.

“Most geckos have no movable eyelids, they have sticky toepads, disposable parts, are nocturnal, and live in tropical climates, but what it really comes down to is genetics,” Marchetti explained.

“And most geckos lack a post-orbital bar,” added Marchetti.

A what? “Geckos have an open skull arrangement. Lacking a post-orbital bar leaves a huge amount of space [behind their eyes] for jaw muscle.”

So geckos pack a powerful bite. Their diet consists of insects with hard exoskeletons that they can crunch with those strong jaw muscles. Suddenly the jaw-crunching geckos seem less cute, until…

Marchetti points out the leaf-tailed geckos, which -- as their name implies -- resemble the leaves that surround them. Once one little camouflaged gecko comes into focus, the half a dozen or so others that share its cage are more easily recognizable.

“Geckos are masters of disguise,” Marchetti continued. “They don’t change color as quickly as a chameleon can, but they can change day-to-day to blend in with their environment.”

“Whoa! Look at this one on the ceiling,” a young visitor exclaims.

“This one has spots,” another visitor points out.

 GeckoAnd sure enough, the gecko-gazing quickly becomes a game of ‘find the gecko’ as visitors discover there are multiple geckos per cage hiding throughout the entire exhibition.

Marchetti walks over to the spotted geckos’ cages and explains that as geckos evolved their color diversity occurred naturally. He points to the wall of cages that hold the Day Geckos --so named because they are not nocturnal like most geckos. The Day Geckos’ brilliant colors capture the attention of children and adult visitors alike.

“On the other side,” Marchetti explains, turning back to the spotted geckos, “the Leopard geckos have been bred to have different colors.”

He refers to an albino Leopard gecko that is all white with faint yellow spots and then contrasts it with the quintessential Leopard gecko with its tan body and brown and black spots.

“Leopard geckos have been bred in many different color varieties because they are popular as pets,” said Marchetti.

They make good pets!?!? “The Leopard geckos are the best geckos to keep as pets,” Marchetti now captures more attention from the crowd. “They are friendlier than other geckos, but they’re not going to vie for your attention as a Golden Retriever would.”

They’re hypoallergenic, small, come in lots of colors and are relatively easy to care for. The more space they have the better, but a ten-gallon tank would hold a Leopard gecko just fine. Add a heating rock or lamp, some feed crickets, water, and foliage and you have a mini gecko exhibit of your own.

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