10 geckos spotted in Florida
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Florida is home to some of the most vibrant, diverse, and amazing wildlife – not just in the United States, but in the entire world! This is thanks in large part to Florida's subtropical climate, which provides perfect conditions for all kinds of plant and animal life.
The reptiles of the Sunshine State are especially fascinating, and Florida's dozen or so gecko species are perhaps the most striking and bizarre of the bunch.
Of Florida's resident geckos, only one species, the Florida Reef Gecko, is actually native to the state. Incredibly, all other species of Florida gecko have been introduced into the region, most commonly by humans illegally removing them from their native habitats in Africa and Asia.
Read on to learn all about Florida gecko populations below! Join me as I take a closer look at 10 of the state's most incredible, fascinating, and unique small (and not small!) lizards.
1. Reef gecko ( Sphaerodactylus notatus )
The tiny reef gecko (also known as the Florida reef gecko and the brown spotted ball gecko) is the only species on this list that is truly native to Florida.
It is also native to a handful of Caribbean islands. Thanks to the warm, humid climate of these equatorial regions, reef geckos are able to not only survive, but thrive comfortably.
At only about 2 inches long when fully grown, the coral reef gecko is one of the smallest reptiles in Florida. Half of their body length is devoted to the tail. They are mostly brown or tan with dark brown spots and stripes. Their diet is entirely insectivorous.
Females have three broad stripes on their heads and are only active at dusk. They can often be seen rushing into the ruins to hide.
2. Tropical gecko ( Hemidactylus mabouia )
Tropical geckos, also known as black American or cosmopolitan geckos, have a wide geographic range for this small reptile.
Originally, the species was native to a handful of sub-Saharan African countries including Uganda, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. However, these hardy, adaptable lizards have managed to make their home in the Caribbean and in the warmer, wetter regions of all three Americas (North, Central and South America).
Typically, tropical geckos are about 3 to 5 inches long. Their base color is light brown or tan with mottled gray, black and dark brown markings from nose to tail. Like most geckos, its eyes are bulbous and projected with vertical slit-like pupils.
As a nocturnal species, it has remarkable vision. Thanks to its huge eyes and uniquely shaped pupils, it can dilate to absorb as much light as possible, even in near darkness.
Tropical geckos' distinctive — albeit somewhat drab — colors allow them to blend seamlessly with layers of tree bark and leaf litter. Additionally, geckos can subtly lighten or darken their colors to better blend in and hide from their many predators. This ingenious camouflage also helps them adeptly ambush and devour insect prey.
3. Eyed gecko ( Sphaerodactylus argus )
Next up is the one-eyed gecko, sometimes called the one-eyed gecko or the punctate gecko. This species is only native to Jamaica, but it has also established populations in Cuba, the Bahamas, and of course South Florida, primarily in the Florida Keys.
The one-eyed gecko, about 2 to 2.5 inches long, is a very small lizard. They are mostly dark brown with tiny white or light brown round spots. These spots cover the gecko's body from nose to tail. Its eyes are large, round and brown, while the gecko's nose is long and pointed. Although mostly brown or olive in color, they sometimes have tiny white spots, or may have no pattern at all.
Although they don't look very distinctive or striking at first glance, long-eyed geckos are actually a bit of an oddball, as far as geckos go.
While most species in the Gekkota infraorder are highly arboreal, the eyed gecko is mostly terrestrial, and although it is an adept climber, usually keeps low. Also, while most gecko species are nocturnal, eyed geckos are diurnal. This means it sleeps at night and is more active during the day.
4. Madagascar Giant Sun Gecko ( Phelsuma grandis )
As its name suggests, the Madagascar giant sun gecko is native to Madagascar and is one of the largest diurnal geckos in the world. Typically, these vibrant green geckos are about 9 to 11 inches long from nose to tail. Males are usually slightly longer and heavier than females.
The stout, hardy lizard has reached several regions far from its homeland, namely the island of Mauritius, and the US states of Hawaii and Florida. Due to habitat loss, they began to settle in more urban areas. They are very aggressive and territorial lizards, especially males, when competing for mates and other resources.
While this particular diurnal gecko looks very similar to other species like the golden dust diurnal gecko, it's easy to tell them apart once you know the characteristics to look for. The main difference is size – MGD geckos are significantly larger in weight and length than all other diurnal geckos. The distinctive red markings around the eyes and nose are also unique to this species.
5. Yellow-headed gecko ( Gonatodes albogularis )
We now take a look at the aptly named Yellow-headed Gecko, a small colorful lizard known for — you guessed it — its bright yellow head! However, it is important to note that this species is highly sexually dimorphic.
Interestingly, only the males of this species have this distinctive coloration. While most of its body is drab, mottled grays and browns, its head is bright yellow or orange with light blue markings around its eyes.
Female yellow-headed geckos lack this yellow color at all, and their heads are usually a more uniform light brown or tan color. When lizards are about 6 months old, males and females can usually be easily distinguished.
Yellow-headed geckos are native to Central and South America as well as Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Cuba. However, like the other Florida geckos on this list, it has been identified as an invasive species in the United States. It's found mostly in the hottest, wettest parts of the country, such as the Florida Keys.
Besides the unusual coloration, another odd feature of the gecko is the lack of sticky foot pads or flakes, which most gecko species share and use for climbing. Yellow-headed geckos do not have these foot pads, but instead have short, sharp claws, similar to geckos in the Eublepharidae family.
6. Gray Gecko ( Sphaerodactylus elegans )
Gray gecko is a handsome little lizard with light gray body color and dark gray horizontal stripes when young. As the gecko ages, these stripes become smaller and more scattered. Over time, they look more like tiny spots and irregular marks.
However, what really makes this lizard stunning is its brightly colored tail. Because it is not a sexually dimorphic species, both male and female gray geckos have beautiful, vibrant tails. They are usually fiery red or cool blue. Sadly, like the juvenile stripe pattern mentioned earlier, this funky neon tail color becomes more subdued when the gecko becomes an adult.
Gray geckos are native to Cuba and Hispaniola, but were introduced to South Florida in the 1920s. Due to the state's marginal tropical climate, the species still thrives there today. It currently has two subspecies, one of which has also been introduced and is well established in Florida.
These highly arboreal geckos are small and lightweight, only about 3 inches long. Small in size, nocturnal, attractive in color and gentle in temperament, the gray gecko has become more and more popular in the exotic pet trade in recent years.
7. Bibron's thick-toed gecko ( Chondrodactylus bibronii )
Named after French herpetologist Gabriel Bibron, Bibron's thick-toed gecko is sometimes simply called Bibron's gecko or Bibron's sand gecko. It is native to southern African countries such as Namibia and South Africa. However, like most of the other geckos on this list, it was also introduced to the United States.
Currently, the largest gecko population of gibbons is located in South Florida. As a highly arboreal and nocturnal species, it spends most of its time quietly camouflaged among the dense foliage of the hot, humid forests it normally inhabits. At night, it wakes up to hunt, its huge pupils dilated to absorb the last of the light. Its night vision is excellent.
The Bibron's gecko is one of the larger, bulkier lizards on this list. It's also one of the largest geckos in Florida in general! Adult geckos are usually 6 to 8 inches long, with females being smaller than males. Its mottled gray, brown and black colors closely resemble the bark of the tree. As the name suggests, it has very thick toes, which are great for climbing.
8. White-spotted gecko ( Tarentola annularis )
Sometimes called the ring gecko, the original home of the spotted gecko is in North Africa. It has particularly large native populations in countries such as Egypt and Ethiopia. It's unclear when or how humans introduced these geckos to the United States. We do know, however, that the species is established not only in Florida but also in California and Arizona.
As the name suggests, the spotted gecko is mostly yellowish-tan in color with many tiny, irregular white spots. The belly and feet of the lizard are also very yellowish or white. The scales on its tail slope slightly outward, giving it a spiky appearance.
Another of the larger geckos on this list, the spotted gecko is usually about 6 to 8 inches long. Males are usually longer and heavier than females, with slightly wider heads.
If you come across one of these geckos in the wild, be sure to observe it from a safe distance. Spotted geckos tend to be somewhat aggressive when threatened, and will bite defensively if handled.
9. Flat-tailed gecko ( Hemidactylus platyurus )
The slender gecko is also sometimes called the Asian gecko because of its native habitat mainly in Southeast Asia. Like nearly every other lizard listed here, this species has been introduced to South Florida.
In terms of size, this gecko falls somewhere in the middle. The average length of a flat-tailed gecko is about 4 to 6 inches. As its name suggests, its tail and body are rather thin and flat. Its body color is predominantly light gray with mottled tan, brown and dark gray markings. These markings provide the lizard with subtle camouflage as it blends perfectly with the bark and leaf litter layers.
Interestingly, this species has become popular in the pet trade, especially among beginner reptile lovers looking for a low-maintenance scaly companion. While flat-tailed geckos don't tolerate handling well, they are inexpensive, have simple care requirements, and can live comfortably in fairly small enclosures.
Due to its similarity in appearance and size to other geckos such as Mediterranean and tropical geckos, it is often confused with these species and vice versa.
10. Dongkai gecko (Gekko gecko)
To wrap up our list of the most incredible geckos in Florida, meet the bizarrely neon-colored and notoriously unpleasant Dongkai gecko. Interestingly, the species' common name comes from its loud clucking "To-kay!" courtship call, which males often use to find female mates.
This vigorous lizard is native to the Middle East and much of Asia, mainly in countries such as India, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Of course, it has also established large populations in South Florida and Hawaii. However, in both non-native areas, the Dongkai gecko is threatened by habitat loss.
As far as appearance goes, the Tokay gecko is large, beautiful and intimidating for a mere lizard! Its huge, bulging eyes, neon orange, blue, and wide mouth filled with tiny, sharp teeth make it a force to be reckoned with. Adult Dongkai Geckos are usually 10 to 12 inches long, with some reaching over 15 inches! Currently, it is the third largest gecko in the world.
Although nocturnal and reclusive, the Tokaj are territorial, aggressive and excitable. It also has an incredibly powerful and painful bite! Despite its irascible temper, it has become somewhat popular among the exotic pet trades of expert reptile breeders.
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about the author
Hailey Pruett is a non-binary content writer, editor, and lifelong animal lover living in East Tennessee. They grew up on a hobby farm and owned and cared for a variety of animals, from the mundane (dogs, cats) to the more exotic and unusual (lizards, frogs, goats, llamas, chickens, and more!). When they're not busy writing about how awesome reptiles and amphibians are, they're usually playing arcane indie video games, collecting Squishmallows, or hanging out with their cat, Hugo. Their favorite animals are bearded dragons, salamanders and marine iguanas.
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