House Lizards, or 'Palli' in Tamil
As a newcomer to Auroville I remember being initially irritated by the masses of geckos which shared my residence, dropping their little black 'waste' pellets everywhere, "Chuck, Chuck, Chucking" at each other as I tried to sleep, scuttling across the floor or up and down the walls in pursuit of insects or each other, staring goggle-eyed at me from my desk worktop, and laying eggs amid my clothes, at the back of my bookcase, and in other quiet spots around the house. In the end I decided to make my place Gecko free, and set about driving them out, one by one. It took me nearly a week, but finally I achieved it.
A few days later I began to feel remorse at what I had done. I realised that I actually MISSED them! And so, with apologies to the Deva of Geckos for having herded them out earlier, I began a reverse process, leaving doors open to encourage them to return. This they did over a period of a few days, and we have lived in symbiotic harmony - a vague sort of unity in diversity - ever since!
To have Geckos in your house is a good omen, or so I was told soon after the above experience. Having studied these prehistoric creatures a little I'd go even further, and commiserate with any unfortunate Aurovilian who lives without their insect-controlling presence!
3000 Lizard species
65 million years ago, all but 4 reptilian forms disappeared from the earth. Of the 4 remaining forms, by far the largest group was the lizards, which today includes over 3,000 species, ranging in size from the 35mm Caribbean Dwarf Gecko to the 3 metre long Komodo Dragon.
Geckos, which are found on every continent except Antarctica, do a lot of good. Undoubtedly they play a major role in making our lives and environment more comfortable, as they include in their diet cockroaches, mosquitoes and termites as well as countless other "poochies" (Tamil term for insects). Their two most impressive characteristics are their ability to camouflage themselves, by changing body colour and sometimes body patterns to blend with their background, and their detachable tail. At the slightest touch, or a bite from one of their many predators (snakes and birds mainly), they can drop their tail and scamper off. Subsequently they grow a new tail. Changes in body colour also occur to reflect emotions such as fear, excitement or anger.
Another impressive characteristic of most Geckos is their ability to cling to seemingly gripless surfaces, and even defy gravity (considering their body weight) by running across ceilings. This they are able to do thanks to thousands of microscopic hooks beneath each toe, which latch on to equally microscopic irregularities on the surface they are crossing.
Geckos have well developed sight and hearing. Their eyes, which they depend on heavily for survival, adapt to bright and dim light by way of major changes in the aperture of their pupil - from very wide, to a single vertical row of pinhole openings in bright sunlight. In the latter case the colour of their iris resembles their skin colour, so the eyes don't give them away, as often occurs with other creatures. The lower lid is fused shut to form a translucent 'spectacle' covering the eye. Dust specks which stick to the 'spectacle' are simply licked off using their extra long tongue.
They feed selectively, avoiding potentially harmful insects. Movement of their prey seems to be the trigger for an attack (a moth encountered sitting still is generally safe). Big insects are often stunned prior to swallowing by banging them against a wall. After eating, they then lick their face clean, like cats. Another cat-like quality is their ability to use their tails if they happen to fall, to right themselves in mid air and land on their feet.
Adult Geckos will strongly defend a good feeding territory. They announce their occupation with the familiar "Chuck, Chuck" sound unique to Geckos (other lizards can only hiss). This also acts as a call to mates. Battles between males during the spring breeding season can be quite dramatic, beginning with the twitching of tails and lots of "chucking" as they advance to the fray. Once engaged, chunks of flesh may be torn out of opponents, but rarely do they kill. Females normally lay 2 eggs at a time, though they frequently lay collectively in secure places used by other females (like our clothes cupboards, as mentioned earlier!), thereby giving the impression of more eggs. Incubation usually takes 5-8 weeks, with the young hatching around the start of the monsoon to coincide with abundant food. Life span may be 7-9 years. (A freaky exception to the normal breeding pattern is a Gecko of the eastern Himalayas, which is unisexual and fertilises itself!)
Not poisonous, not dangerous
Finally, in case you have any lingering doubts about them, I would add that contrary to reputation they are not poisonous (if they were, my neighbour's cat, which treats the mesh screens covering my windows like a delicatessen, would have ended up dead & buried long ago). We have nothing to fear from them; on the contrary, we should enjoy their presence, and be thankful to them for keeping our dwellings relatively free of insect life!
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