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Tails to Toepads: Geckos Swarm National Geographic Museum

Geckos: Tails to Toepads, an exhibition featuring live geckos–some meek, some ferocious, and some just adorable–opens tomorrow at the National Geographic Museum in Washington, D.C.


By Julie Crain

As a longtime employee of National Geographic–clearly one of the more animal-savvy organizations around–I’m ashamed to admit that most of what I knew about geckos came from a car insurance ad.

In an effort to broaden my knowledge, I jumped at the chance to be among the first to welcome our gecko guests to their temporary home here at the National Geographic Museum. I got the inside scoop on their characteristics and behavior … and what I learned could give a person nightmares.

Colin Walker is one of two Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland zookeepers responsible for tending the geckos during their stay at our headquarters. After hearing me oohing and awing over some of the cute little critters at the start of the exhibit, he must have thought I needed a bit of balance: He brought out a tokay gecko–or as he calls it, “the tiny little pit bull.”


Colin, whose specialty back at Reptiland is alligators and crocodiles, told me the tokay is the most vicious reptile he’s ever handled. When he pulled this particular male out of the display case, the little guy made some mean sneezing sounds before opening his jaw in a futile attempt to get a bite of something nearby (Colin’s arm, say, or my face).

The majority of geckos in the exhibit are females. They’re less aggressive than males, said Colin, so they “show” better. There’s a lot of male-on-male aggression in the world of geckos, he added, as he pointed out a leg injury suffered by the “tiny pit bull” in Atlanta. “The only thing a male gecko hates more than other male geckos is humans. In fact, they hate everything about people.”

Exhibition visitors will get to see these vicious tokay predators in action every half hour when Colin drops a live cricket into their enclosure. Other geckos in the exhibit will have to wait for him to feed them on Monday and Friday mornings.

Not every gecko on display will provoke nightmares. The ones that inspired GEICO’s “not gecko!” commercials …


… get nervous around people. They don’t show well, Colin explained to me, because when they’re under stress, they just shed their skins. (I can relate: I’ve got friends who head to the mall and buy clothes when they get stressed out.)

Awww, but there’s love on display here, too–witness the two tiny eggs in the gliding gecko enclosure. If all goes according to schedule, we’ll be welcoming two baby geckos to the museum soon.


Geckos: Tails to Toepads opens tomorrow and will remain here at the National Geographic Museum through January 5, 2011. Staff presentations at 2 p.m. daily will feature a yet unnamed gecko. (Learn how you can help name the gecko!)

Get tickets for the exhibition.

Photos by Megan Seldon