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Reef Gecko: Shoreline stalwarts

Photo Credit: Nature Picture Library

Species Sunday this week is showcasing an awesome lizard you probably didn't know existed! As we all know, Florida is home to many species of lizards, most of them non-native and/or invasive, but we're also home to between 15-17 native species. The Florida reef gecko's name (Sphaerodactylus n. notatus) translates into Sphaero- sphere and dactylus- finger, making these geckos part of the sphere-fingered family. Round, sticky toepads give the lizards their grip, and these iconic toes also give the genus its name. These geckos aren't just the only native species of gecko here in Florida, but are also the only native gecko found East of the Mississippi River!

Florida's reef geckos are found from the Dry Tortugas, Florida Keys, and extreme Southeastern mainland Florida. They call leaf litter, found in pinelands and oak hammocks, home. Camouflaging extremely well, these geckos also sport a cool adaptation to avoid predators and they can not only drop their tails to escape, but can also tear its skin to squeeze away from predators.

The Reef Gecko lays one massive egg that can weigh up to a third of its body weight. While this would seem to signify a slow reproductive process, the geckos also occur in high densities, making it difficult to assess how well populations can rebound after catastrophic events like hurricanes or flood.

Photo Credit: Emily Powell

Dwarf geckos have binocular vision, meaning their eyes work independently, sort of like a chameleon’s, to spot prey while keeping one eye (literally) on predators. These geckos are possibly the smallest lizards in the United States, only growing to be around the size of a matchstick. They are crepuscular, meaning active during dawn and dusk, and will feed on tiny insects and spiders. Their bodies are covered from head to tail tip in dark brown spots. These little lizards also have another cool adaptation with their scales and the fact that they are keeled. Keeled scales are scales that instead of being smooth, have a ridge going down the middle. Not much is known about why certain species evolved keeled scales, however, it is estimated that these scales on these geckos help them blend into their environment a lot easier as they aren’t as reflective as a shiny scale. The females of this species have been known to share nest sites with other geckos, including Cuban ashy geckos and house geckos of varying species.

Photo Credit: Gary Nafis

This gecko species' populations are slowly declining due to human development within their habitats and competition from introduced gecko species, such as the tokay gecko, day gecko, and the many species of house geckos. The biggest threat to these tiny lizards are rising sea levels. Recent studies of these gecko's habitat indicate that if the projected forecast of the sea level rising 2.2 meters were to happen, it would put 85% of these gecko's suitable habitat underwater. When it comes to these small species there isn’t much a singular person can do, but as a group we can make our voices heard for these tiny little lizards. What you can do is push for Green environmental laws to be passed by your local, state, and federal government and spread the word about these little geckos.

Daphne Kline

Environmental Educator

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