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Geckos are a familiar sight to those who live in tropical and warm temperate regions of Australia. Some species are common ‘house geckos’, scuttling across our walls and ceilings in pursuit of insects.
Geckos have a broad distribution through tropical and warm temperate regions of the world, some even survive in harsh, cold conditions.
Australian geckos belong to four families; Diplodactylidae, Carphodactylidae, Gekkonidae and Pygopodidae, the first three of which can be considered true geckos. These are easily recognised. They have soft bodies, tiny granular scales, well-developed limbs (with five digits) and large eyes with vertical pupils. These geckos are largely nocturnal. Pygopodids, also referred to as legless lizards or flap-footed lizards, are superficially snake-like. They have large scales and small flap-like hind legs. Genetic studies show Pygopodids to be closely related to other Australian geckos. Despite obvious differences in appearance, both true geckos and legless lizards have lidless eyes with a clear spectacle that they clean with a wipe of the tongue. They also emit squeaking calls when alarmed.
Some geckos have expanded toe pads that provide adhesion and allow them to run on vertical or slippery surfaces (for example, Asian House Gecko, Hemidactylus frenatus; velvet geckos - Oedura spp.), some can even run across glass windowpanes. Others have narrow, bird-like feet for clinging to trees or rocks (for example, ring-tailed geckos - Cyrtodactylus spp.; leaf-tailed geckos - Orraya occultus, Phyllurus spp. and Saltuarius spp.). During the day, geckos can be found hiding in confined spaces; spider holes, beneath dead bark, in clumps of spinifex or in rock crevices.
Australian geckos are remarkably diverse. Some are boldly patterned (for example, Northern Marbled Velvet Gecko, Oedura marmorata and Golden-tailed Gecko, Strophurus taenicauda), others, like the leaf-tailed geckos (Orraya occultus, Phyllurus spp., Saltuarius spp.), have cryptic patterns and broken outlines. They blend perfectly with their backgrounds. Some are smooth and others are covered with small, raised tubercles. There are geckos that have rows of spine-like projections along their tails (Strophurus spp., spiny-tailed geckos) and others with disproportionally short tails, ending in a small kidney-shaped knob (Nephrurus spp. knob-tailed geckos).
While most Australian geckos favour drier habitats, a few species are largely restricted to rainforests (for example, Chameleon Gecko, Carphodactylus laevis, most of the leaf-tailed geckos - Orraya occultus, Phyllurus spp. and Saltuarius spp.).
In Queensland, there are currently 88 species of true geckos (those with well-developed limbs) and 14 species of legless lizards. However, recent genetic studies point to the Australian gecko fauna being richer than currently recognised.
Most are arthropod eaters (insects, spiders, and the like) but some will include sap and nectar in their diets. Some of the larger species will also take small vertebrates. The Cooktown Ring-tailed Gecko, Cyrtodactylus tuberculatus has been seen eating frogs and other geckos.
All Australian geckos lay eggs, but New Zealand geckos, and some New Caledonian geckos, give birth to live young.
The Northern Leaf-tailed Gecko, Saltuarius cornutus from north-east Queensland is Australia’s largest gecko (excluding pygopodids – legless lizards) with a snout-vent length of 145 mm. The Centralian Knob-tailed Gecko, Nephrurus amyae is Australia’s heaviest gecko, weighing up to 65 grams.
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