Geckos Galore

It's a predicament: To tell, or not to tell. We then hesitantly alert our overnight guests, since they are the only ones who really need to know. They tend to respond with either a look of horror, wishing they were not spending the night, or of excitement. Sightings are rare, and the occasional night cries are even rarer, but wouldn't we be in more trouble if we didn't warn our visitors?

You see, we own a gecko. Well, it used to be ``a'' gecko. It all started so innocently. Living on five Southern acres and having our expected share of cockroaches, we wanted an environmentally sound way to deal with them. No chemical sprays for us, and with three children, forget the approach of having the house so spotlessly clean that roaches wouldn't be interested. So our unorthodox answer was to invest in a gecko.

The tokay (Gekko gecko is its scientific name), a lizard that grows to about a foot in length, is found throughout Southeast Asia, and has been known to eat mice, snakes, lizards, and ... this is the part we wanted ... ``a generous supply of insects.''

Asian homeowners appreciate the gecko, glad that it's there to eat uninvited and unwelcome smaller visitors. There are even myths about the gecko, and some homeowners eagerly await the gecko's arrival, hoping it will bring good fortune to a new home.

And what a bargain we got on our first gecko. The owner of the pet store was delighted to wheel and deal, so he could stop getting bitten by a particularly feisty gecko. ``Art'' (short for ``Art-Deco gecko'') made himself right at home in our place. The first person up in the morning occasionally spotted him on the bathroom wall or in his favorite hiding place, behind the world map on the wall near our kitchen table.

Our daughter Bronwyn's early-morning scream had us leaping out of bed, only to find that she was scared of the gecko she had faced on the wall after her shower. I tried to be supportive, sympathetic, but Dad was much more matter-of-fact: ``If you're learning to deal with 2,000-pound horses, you'd better not be scared of a little old gecko!'' That was the end of that. No more requests for showers in our bathroom. After all, she had to show Dad she wasn't scared and was ready for that horse she was dreaming of.

Besides, we needed her to model fearless behavior when her friends came for the night.

After no sightings for several months, our son, Schuyler, and his friend Matt were accused of scaring Art to death by taking flash pictures and chasing him from room to room. So we ate our words - something about a ``one-time investment'' in roach control, and bought another. This one was quieter and rarely seen, but neither did we see roaches, so we felt secure about his presence.

One night, the boys, who stay up later than Mom and Dad, bolted into our bedroom with exciting news. Jared had spotted a baby! My husband, Chris, jumped out of bed, eager to see this miracle for himself, while I stayed in bed, delighted that Art I was alive, had found Art II, and decided to start a family. I was also glad that Schuyler and Matt were off the hook with regard to those animal-cruelty charges!

We tell our guests not to worry about ever stepping on Art or his family members. We've only seen them climbing walls or ceilings on their special toes, which have a series of ridges on them (each ridge with thousands of tiny hooks), enabling them to hold on to almost any type of surface.

It was Dan and Joan, our missionary friends who had lived in Southeast Asia, who shared their firsthand knowledge of geckos while visiting us. Dan demonstrated what we would be hearing whenever the gecko decided to talk, saying a loud ``tokay.'' (Now you know how it got its name.) We've heard that cry three times now - always in the middle of the night, loud and clear from downstairs, easily startling us out of sleep. It doesn't bother us: It's our way of knowing they're still here.

On a recent spring-cleaning day, while trying to be helpful, Jared inadvertently dropped a heavy paint can on a valve to our hot-water heater, causing us to replan our day and focus on plumbing instead of cleaning.

The unexpected surprise to this unwelcome event was that we discovered three gecko eggs, stuck to the back of the water heater. Gecko eggs are wrapped in a protective coating and glued to whatever object is convenient. That's how geckos, whose eggs have been stuck to packing cases, have been transported all around the world.

We've grown fond of Art and family, and are happy that we don't have to spray our house or sabotage corners with poison.

Since the family keeps growing, the geckos must like it here. Of course, we now have friends eager to adopt a baby, which might be a good idea. I'd hate to have to start importing roaches in order to keep up with our extended family!

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