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Greedy little Gecko, South Africa.
South Africa has a diversity of spiders, from tiny wolf spiders to giant baboon spiders. Growing up in Port Alfred, I remember seeing wall crab spiders, aka flatties, hiding behind pictures on the walls or on the ceiling of my bedroom. Foreign visitors view these large, flat grey spiders with apprehension. However, while harmless, they are useful because they eat a variety of insects such as spiders, mosquitoes and moths. So residents pay them little notice and find their visitors' apprehension surprising.
Geckos are common in the subtropical areas of Southern Africa. However I cannot recall ever seeing geckos on the walls of my bedroom. However I recently noticed geckos on the walls of buildings in the area and was told that they have expanded their range southwards to the Western Cape – apparently a consequence of global warming. Since their diet includes spiders, it is unsurprising that their appearance has coincided with the disappearance of flatties. Because of such changes, I now pay them more attention than was earlier the case.
Like flatties, geckos are harmless to humans and are thus ignored by residents. Not so our foreign visitors, who find the presence of lizards on the walls quite disconcerting. A good friend and tour guide, Chris Murray, accompanied a group of foreign tourists on a visit to the Kruger National Park. Because animals in game reserves are most active at dawn, the gates into the park open at 06h00. To ensure that his visitors were ready to leave when the gates opened, Chris rose at 03h00 and knocked on each door to wake them up. It took a while for one of his visitors to respond and, when he did, he looked tired and haggard. Chris asked him what had happened and his visitor said that he had not slept a wink all night. What upset him was a large gecko clinging to the ceiling directly above his bed. He lay awake all night worried that it would fall onto his bed. Worse still, it was licking its eyes!
Many animals (e.g. dogs and cats, birds, snakes, sharks and other fish) have nictitating membranes underneath their eyelids that are used to protect and clean debris from the surface of the eye. In lizards and snakes, the upper eyelid is immobile and only the lower eyelid moves up and down. However, with geckos, both the upper and eyelids are immobile and the entire eye is covered by a nictitating membrane, which it cleans with its tongue. It was this behavior Chris' visitor found so disconcerting.
They are interesting animals so, given the opportunity, I usually take time to watch them carefully. One evening I was sitting in the lounge of a farmhouse in the Schoemanskloof, Mpumalanga reading a book underneath a gas lamp when I noticed a large fat-tailed gecko hiding behind a dresser. It was 6-8 inches long and clearly well-fed. So well fed that it did not run -- it waddled. I could see its snout sticking out – the rest of its beige-coloured body was hidden from sight behind the dresser. Moths, attracted by the lamp, would slip down the wall and it would pick them off one by one. Fascinated, I watched for several hours, after which I turned off the lights and went to bed.
A few days later I again sat down to read my book under the light of the lamp. Soon thereafter I noticed the same gecko sticking its head out behind the dresser. As luck would have it, a huge praying mantis, attracted by the light of the lamp, noisily flew into the room. Flying about and occasionally knocking into me, it was annoying so I gave it a swipe and it landed on top of the dresser, stunned. The gecko, which took little notice of me, immediately rushed out of its hiding place and grabbed the mantis. Like most lizards they cannot chew their prey -- they swallow it whole. The gecko started swallowing it but, because of its size, it was unable to swallow the mantis completely. So it retreated to its ambush position with the mantis' legs and wings sticking out of its mouth and spent several minutes twisting and turning its body to swallow it all.
I was surprised by its ability to swallow such large prey. So when a second, equally large mantis flew into the room I gave it a swipe. To my surprise, the gecko again rushed out to seize the mantis. However there was now so little space left in its stomach that it retreated to its ambush position with most of the mantis protruding from its mouth and spent several hours twisting and turning its body until, eventually, the second mantis also disappeared down its throat. The gecko had swallowed two whole mantis' that were almost as big as itself!
Moral of this story: One does not need to travel halfway around the world or spend a small fortune to appreciate the beauty of God’s creations. Many are right in front of you if only you are willing to take the time to notice. “All creatures great and small”
1536/1%Last update: 2014-03-17 02:14
Author: Alan McIver
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