The Gecko – An Incredible Folk Reptile from Puerto Vallarta

by Jesús de Ávila PV Mirror

Observing closely the coat of arms of the municipality of Puerto Vallarta, we could think that the predominant figure of the pez vela (Istiophorus platypterus), would have the same roots within the regional folklore like what happens to the royal eagle – undeniable symbol of our Mexican identity. In this case, the situation is far from reality, since whatever was arranged officially does not agree with the preferences of the community and taking into consideration that sportfishing – which is represented by the pez vela – is not a substantial part in the everyday life of the local people who have chosen the green iguana and the cuiza (Hemidactylus frenatus) as an esential part of their traditions.

These reptiles are the main models for the decoration of a great variety of Mexican arts and crafts, t-shirts, caps, facades of hotels and commercial establishments, and it is even possible to observe them on human skin in the form of tattoos. In addition their names are generally applied to baptize restaurants, shops, brands of cloth, non-governmental organizations, nightclubs, and shopping malls, as well as residential areas.

The gecko is the only reptile which is capable of vocalizing in a regular manner. Its common name gecko or “kisser” comes from the typical cry it utters, some kind of “gec-gec”, “kic-kic”, or “toc-toc”, sounds that are audible from a great distance. It is about a nightlife organism which moves his tail from one side to the other while stalking its prey, rivaling cats that prepare themselves for the capture of moving objects. Its habit of feeding on insects has gained it the acceptance of human beings in their houses, because it eliminates many “plagues” like ants, spiders, flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, ticks and even scorpions. In fact it is so valuable as a controller of harmful animals that some people deliberately introduce great quantities of theses reptiles into their homes. Several hotels even distribute small information brochures among their guests that illustrate the importance of this specie, preventing its physical harm, since some tourists are disturbed by the presence of these defenseless and inoffensive organisms inside their hotel rooms.

Through a documentary shown by the Discovery channel, we know today that geckos stick to anything except teflon. New investigations have allowed us to learn that this great adherence of their feet is due to the existence of approximately half a million tiny hair called “setae” on the feet’s surface. There are a million of microscopic extremities called “espatulae” at the tip of each “setae” which are responsible for generating an incredible adhesive force. Its adherence is such that theoretically a gecko held up to the ceiling face up could sustain a knapsack of 40 kg without falling down. This has called the attention of space engineers and scientists, to such a degree that investigations are sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Unfortunately not everything runs smoothly for the geckos of Banderas Bay, since some people do eliminate them systematically based on the false belief that their bite is poisonous.

Even though this small lizard forms a part of the popular tradition of this region, it is not Mexican. It is a species that was introduced from Southeast Asia and Indochina traveling like pullets on cargo vessels. It is found on the Pacific coast of Mexico from the northern part of Sinaloa to Acapulco and in the rest of the world, it is located in Australia and Southeast Africa. Without any doubt the green iguana enjoys a greater popularity in this region; however it seems as if soon the gecko will be more popular than Spiderman himself!

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