By Bob Thomas
During the spring and summer months, visitors to the Nature Center often ask "What are those little pink lizards on my screens at night?"
The answer: Mediterranean geckos (Hemidactylus turcicus), relatively recent immigrants from the Mediterranean Sea area that arrived here as stowaways on ships and in their cargo. First found in the United States in the Florida Keys in 1915, these lizards were abundant in Gentilly and the Vieux Carre by the late 1940's.
Mediterranean geckos are totally harmless to humans and quite beneficial in that they consume a variety of nocturnal insects. In fact, the reason they rapidly became so successful was that they invaded an unoccupied niche in North America. They are basically the nocturnal equivalents of the diurnal American Anole, the locally common "green chameleon."
If you look closely and the light is right, you can see the gecko's heart beating through its translucent skin or a single egg inside a pregnant female (breeding takes place from April to August).
These are the only local lizards that have a voice, the peeping sound being produced by a larynx (voice box). Unfortunately, this species is not as vocal as some other geckos and is rarely heard by New Orleanians.
The next time you see a gecko on your screen or door, thank him. He may have just eaten a roach!