GeckoWatch - Finding and Photographing Geckos | Natural History Museum of Los Angeles

This photograph of an Indo-Pacific Gecko (Hemidactylus garnotii) is the first Orange County Record for this gecko species. The observation and photograph were taken by Bob Worrell.
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email: geckowatch@nhm.org
telephone: 213.763.3535

Richard Smart
Coordinator, Citizen Science
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
telephone: 213.763.3535

Greg Pauly
Curator, Herpetology
Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County
gpauly@nhm.org

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Finding and Photographing Geckos


When Should I Look for Geckos (and Gecko Poop)?

Time of day.—GeckoWatch is primarily focused on nonnative geckos, and nearly every species of gecko introduced to the United States is nocturnal. Thus the best time to look for geckos is at night. However, some species do show some daytime activity, especially in the few hours before dusk. During the day it is also possible to uncover geckos in their daytime hides (see below). Juvenile geckos, especially House Geckos (Hemidactylus), can also be found during the day hiding under cover objects (rocks, logs, boards, pots, etc) in yards.*

Daytime gecko searching tends to be less successful than nighttime searching. Daytime, however, is a great time to find evidence of geckos, in the form of gecko poop! Lizard poop is very distinctive. Lizards try to minimize water loss so their feces are very dry. They also cannot afford to lose lots of water to get rid of nitrogenous wastes like mammals do when they urinate, so they excrete their nitrogenous waste as uric acid crystals. This is the white substance in bird and lizard poop. A good strategy for finding geckos is to find poop during the day, and then return in the evening to find the gecko that produced it. 

Time of year.—Now you know what time of day to look, but what about the time of the year? In southern parts of the US, where introduced geckos are most common, geckos can be found throughout the year. They are certainly most common in the warmer months, but they can be found year round if nighttime lows do not drop too much. In colder climates (and geckos have been found pretty far north in the US including places with subzero winters like Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and Maryland), gecko searches are best left to the warmer months of the year.  

*Just remember to always place the cover object back exactly where you found it because the humidity and temperature regime under these objects make them a great home for many animals, and setting the cover object back in the same place will preserve these conditions.

Where Should I Look for Geckos (and Gecko Poop!)?

Where in the United States?—Geckos are showing up all over the place! They are certainly most common in the southern United States, from North Carolina to Florida westward through the desert southwest into California. Outside of the southern US, geckos are found in many central and northern US states, including in towns where one might think that prolonged cold winters would keep geckos away. Remember, prolonged cold winters aren’t so cold if you are under a house or in a garage. So keep an eye out wherever you are, because there just may be a gecko nearby.

 Where on a building?—Most introduced geckos, such as the Hemidactylus House Geckos do best when three things are present:

  1. Light. At night, porch lights and light from windows attracts insects, and an abundance of easy insect prey attracts geckos. To a gecko, lights mean food. Lights also give off heat, which is an added bonus if you are a well-fed gecko looking for a place to take a little rest and digest those tasty moths you just gorged upon.
  2. Water. Irrigation (around homes and other buildings) provides moisture and water to drink.
  3. Shelter. Man-made structures provide narrow spaces in which a gecko can hide (for example, in cracks in walls, under eaves, behind downspouts, etc). These narrow spaces are great places to sleep through the day and escape from predators. Plus, when the seasons change and temperatures drop, garages, attics, and crawl spaces provide convenient shelters in which to wait for a return to more favorable weather.

These three elements—light, water, and shelter—are abundant around human settlements. So the best place to look for geckos is around homes, buildings, motels/hotels, and other structures. The easiest place to find them is around porch lights or in corners of buildings (where walls meet or where a wall meets the roof or ceiling). Geckos also like to hide behind downspouts or other objects that provide a narrow gap next to the wall of a building. Geckos also like concrete or brick walls, especially if those walls have cracks or holes that can be used as secure hiding spots.

But, the number one place to find geckos, is directly above gecko poop! So look for little lizard poops stuck to walls or at the base of walls and then at night search that area for the gecko who made it.

Photographing Reptiles and Amphibians

Some geckos will allow you to get really close, while others may be more wary.  So we suggest taking lots of photos as you move closer to the gecko. This way you have some good photos for identification in case the gecko runs off.

So, when you see a gecko:

  • FREEZE and wait a moment. SLOWLY get your camera in place before you get any closer.
  • Move SLOWLY towards the gecko, taking as many photos as you can while you walk (watch out for rocks — we don't want you to trip)!
  • If your camera has a zoom, use it.
  • Try to get a few close-ups of the gecko. Also try to take some photos that have the tail and feet in focus. These features can be important for species identification.

 

If the gecko runs off before you get a good photo, do not worry. This happens to all of us! Geckos tend to be territorial and have small home ranges. The gecko you just scared off is likely to return to his favorite spot later in the evening or on another day later in the week. If you need to take better photos, check back often and try again!