Tropical House Gecko

hemidactylus mabouia

tropical house gecko

Tropical House Gecko, photographed in western Delray Beach, Palm Beach County, in July 2021.

Usually the problem with invasives is that they displace native species. The story of this guy, the tropical house gecko, Hemidactylus mabouia, is different in that it he's displaced another invasive, the Mediterranean house gecko. Which, if you think about it, is pretty much of a wash.

Two things identify the tropical house gecko: the first is when and where you're mostly likely to see it. On a house wall at night close to a light, where it will lie in wait for a meal to fly its way. The second is those marks on the back, which vaguely look like chevrons. However, depending on the lighting conditions, the marks might not be all that apparent. It's a small critter, going about five inches from snout to tail. It is extremely wary and is quick to scoot (as we know all too well from numerous failed attempts to photograph it). Feel safe to get a good look at it. There is no danger that it will attempt to sell you insurance, nor does it speak with a British accent.

Tropical house geckos are natives of sub-Saharan tropical Africa, Madagascar and the Mozambique Channel Islands. They've become naturalized residents of the Caribbean and tropical South America.

Sometime in the late 20th century, they made the move to Florida, most likely with the help of agricultural and foliage trade with Puerto Rico and Brazil, according to the folks at the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The FWC says the presence of the tropical house gecko was first documented in Florida in 1990 but was likely here before that. They're now found in at least 15 counties concentrated in South and Central Florida, according to the FWC. Other sources have it in 21 counties. It's likely that it has spread farther, since.

In 2012, a tropical house gecko was found in Fredrick, MD, mostly likely having hitched a ride on a furniture truck.

In 2013, several tropical house geckos were spotted near a Walmart in Brownsville, Texas, a more likely point on the map for the lizard to gain a foothold.

Like geckos generally, it can change colors, depending on conditions, from dark brown to almost white. The key to their ability to climb walls are spike-like scales on their toes called lamellae.They can be seen on the top photo with a careful look. As noted above, they're small creatures, females slightly larger than males. If attacked, they can lose their tail and regrow another (see the photo at the bottom left).

Gecko females are capable of having as many as seven clutches a year, each of which will have two eggs. The eggs are sticky, and females will lay them in places where predators are unlikely to reach them. That's pretty much the extent of parental care. The eggs can hatch in as little as three weeks or take more than two months. The average is 56 days. Females are also capable of storing sperm, so they can wait to lay their eggs when conditions are right.

Tropical house geckos reach maturity at six months to a year; they typically live between three and five years.

The FWC said the tropical house might be the most predacious of the geckos, hunting anole hatchlings and other geckos as well as insects and other invertebrates. The fact that it hunts at night while most other Florida lizards, native and exotic, are active only during the day might be one major reason for the tropical house gecko's rapid population growth. In turn, its enemies include the Cuban treefrog (another invasive) and the tokoy gecko.

There is only one native Florida gecko, and that is the reef gecko, Sphaerodactylus notatus, which is primarily found in the Keys.

Other names for the tropical house gecko include wood slave, cosmopolitan house gecko and amerafrican house gecko, Afro-American house gecko. It is a member of Gekkonidae, the gecko family.

Photo Gallery — Click on photo for larger image

Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.