While pouring a coffee for my Costa Rican friend, Oscar, I strain to identify a rhythmic croaking noise coming from somewhere inside my hotel room. It sounds like a tiny ratchet wrench.
“Gecko,” says Oscar, helpfully. “It is good luck. If there is no gecko, ask for a different room.”
He explains that a Gecko-free house may be a sign of overzealous insecticide application – possibly toxic. Aside from that, Geckos are simply good luck.
In Costa Rica as in many parts of the world, Geckos are welcomed. These useful and charismatic tropical lizards earn a roof over their heads by ridding the place of insects. Geckos eat annoying household bugs, roaches, spiders and scorpions.
Oscar tells me that his mother calls them “Limpia Casas” or House Cleaners.
The common House Gecko, Hemidactylus frenatus was originally a native of Asia, but has spread itself throughout the world’s tropical and subtropical areas. They came to Costa Rica as stowaways on freighters from the Philippines in the early 1990s, accompanied by some of the superstitions surrounding them.
Some people believe Geckos are sacred, maybe because they present a timeless wisdom in their blank stare that seems to look beyond the reality of this dimension. In fact they are only looking for their next insect meal, with their large lidless eyes focused independent of each other to cover more territory.
American Indians from the deserts of Arizona considered Geckos the messengers of good luck, and in the Polynesian islands they were once revered as deities. In their homelands of Southeast Asia they usually bring good fortune. If a gecko falls onto your right shoulder, that’s a good omen, but falling onto your left shoulder is bad.
Not everyone thinks they are good omens. Rural Egyptians believe contact with a Gecko causes leprosy. In parts of Africa if a Gecko moves in, a house must be abandoned and burned down. Throughout most of their range however, they are welcomed, and harming a Gecko brings misfortune.
One aspect of Geckos that makes them seem personable is, unlike most reptiles, Geckos are vocal, uttering a steady commentary in their humble croaking language. It is used to warn other males that they are encroaching on their territory, and at mating time to call females.
They choose to live in our houses and buildings, perhaps sensing the security from predators. They survive at elevations below 1,100 meters (3,600 feet). The average Gecko grows to a length of 130 milimeters (five inches) including the tail. They live 7 to 9 years.
With ultra fine claws and pads on their toes that secrete an adhesive, they can cling upside down to the ceiling or run across walls to catch insects.
Geckos are covered in scales so small that they look like velvet. There are 1,500 different species. They range from grey through brown, pink, red or orange. Some types of Geckos can change color to match their surroundings.
You will usually hear a Gecko before you see it.
Out the porch of my hotel, Oscar points excitedly at the wall behind us. My resident Gecko is slowly closing in on a spider. Like an arrow it launches at the target, and with its prey clamped firmly in its mouth the Gecko retreats for an afternoon meal.