Florida has some of the most vibrant, diverse, and stunning wildlife–not just in the United States but the entire world! This is largely thanks to Florida’s semi-tropical climate, which provides the perfect conditions for a wide range of plant and animal life.
The Sunshine State’s reptiles are especially fascinating, with Florida’s dozen or so gecko species being perhaps the most visually striking and bizarre of the bunch.
Out of Florida’s resident geckos, only a single one, the Florida reef gecko, is actually native to the state. Incredibly, every other species of Florida geckos has been introduced to the area, most commonly by humans illegally removing them from their native habitats in Africa and Asia.
Read on to learn all about the Florida gecko population below! Join me as I take a closer look at 10 of the state’s most incredible, fascinating, and unique little (and not-so-little!) lizards.
1. Reef Gecko (Sphaerodactylus notatus)
The reef gecko is Florida’s only native gecko species.
©John William Bailly / Creative Commons – License
This teeny-tiny reef gecko (also known as the Florida reef gecko and the brown-speckled sphaero) is the only species on this list that is actually native to Florida.
It’s also native to a handful of Caribbean islands. Thanks to these equatorial regions’ warm, humid climates, the reef gecko is able not just to survive but comfortably thrive.
At only around 2 inches long when fully grown, reef geckos are one of Florida’s smallest reptiles. Half of their body length is all tail. They are mostly brown or tan in color with darker brown spots and stripes. Their diet is strictly insectivorous.
Females have three broad stripes on their heads and are only active at dusk. They can often be seen rushing into hiding in debris.
2. Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia)
Though it is very small, the tropical house gecko has traveled far to be counted among a variety of Florida geckos.
The tropical house gecko, also known as the Afro-American or cosmopolitan house gecko, has a massive geographic range for such a small reptile.
Originally, this species is native to a handful of sub-Saharan African countries like Uganda, Zimbabwe, and Tanzania. However, these hardy, adaptable lizards have managed to establish themselves in the Caribbean as well as the warmer, more humid regions of all three Americas: North, Central, and South.
Typically, tropical house geckos are around 3 to 5 inches long. Their base body color is light brown or tan with mottled grey, black, and dark brown markings from nose to tail. Like most geckos, its eyes are bulbous and protruding with vertical, slit-shaped pupils.
As a nocturnal species, it has exceptional eyesight. Thanks to its huge eyes and uniquely-shaped pupils, it can dilate to take in as much light as possible,even in nearly pitch-black conditions.
The tropical house geckos’ unique–albeit a bit drab–coloration allows them to blend in seamlessly with tree bark and leaf litter. Additionally, the geckos can subtly lighten or darken their color to better blend in and hide from their many natural predators. This clever camouflage also helps them expertly ambush and gobble up their insect prey.
3. Ocellated Gecko (Sphaerodactylus argus)
Ocellated geckos are originally from Jamaica.
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Next is the ocellated gecko, also sometimes known as the ocellated or stippled sphaero. This species is native only to Jamaica, but it has also established populations in Cuba, the Bahamas, and, of course, South Florida, primarily in the Florida Keys.
At around 2 to 2.5 inches long, ocellated geckos are quite small lizards. They are mostly dark brown in color with tiny white or light tan round spots. These spots cover the gecko’s body from snout to tail. Its eyes are large, round, and brown, while the gecko’s snout is somewhat long and pointed. Although mostly brown or olive color, they sometimes have tiny white spots on them or may have no pattern at all.
Though they don’t look very unique or visually striking at a glance, the ocellated gecko is actually a bit of an oddball as far as geckos go.
While most species within the Gekkota infraorder are highly arboreal, the ocellated gecko is mostly terrestrial, usually staying low to the ground despite being an adept climber. Additionally, whereas the majority of gecko species are nocturnal, the ocellated gecko is diurnal. This means it sleeps at night and is more active during the day.
4. Madagascar Giant Day Gecko (Phelsuma grandis)
These big, green geckos have invasive populations in both Florida and Hawaii.
As its name implies, the Madagascar giant day gecko is native to Madagascar, one of the largest geckos in the world and diurnal. Typically, these vibrant green geckos reach about 9 to 11 inches in length from snout to tail. Males are usually slightly longer and heavier than females.
This stout, hardy lizard has made its way to a few areas far outside of its native country, namely the island of Mauritius, as well as both Hawaii and Florida in the United States. Due to habitat loss, they’ve begun taking up residence in more urban areas. They are quite aggressive and territorial lizards, especially the males, when competing for mates and other resources.
While this particular day gecko looks very similar to other varieties like the gold dust day gecko, it is easy to differentiate them once you know what traits to look for. The main difference is size–MGD geckos are significantly larger than all other day geckos both in weight and length. The species’ distinct red markings around its eyes and snout are also unique.
5. Yellow-Headed Gecko (Gonatodes albogularis)
Male yellow-headed geckos are far more colorful than females of the species.
©iStock.com/J Esteban Berrio
We now come to the aptly named yellow-headed gecko, a colorful little lizard known for–you guessed it–its bright yellow head! However, it’s important to note that the species is highly sexually dimorphic.
Interestingly, only males of the species have this distinctive coloration. While the majority of its body is a drab, mottled grey and brown shade, its head is bright yellow or orange with pale blue markings around the eyes.
Female yellow-headed geckos lack this yellow color altogether, with their heads usually being a more uniform light brown or tan. It is usually possible to easily differentiate males from females when the lizards are around 6 months old.
The yellow-headed gecko is native to Central and South America as well as the islands of Jamaica, Hispaniola, and Cuba. However, like the other Florida geckos on this list, it has been established as an invasive species in the US. It mainly resides in the country’s hottest, most humid regions, such as the Florida Keys.
In addition to its unusual coloration, another bizarre trait is the gecko’s lack of sticky footpads, or lamellae, which the majority of gecko species share and use for climbing. Instead of these footpads, yellow-headed geckos have short yet sharp claws similar to those of geckos in the Eublepharidae family.
6. Ashy Gecko (Sphaerodactylus elegans)
Only juvenile ashy geckos have neon-colored tails.
©iNaturalistuser: thibaudaronson / Creative Commons – License
The ashy gecko is a handsome little lizard, with its main body color being a light grey with darker grey horizontal striping while it is in its juvenile growth stage. As the gecko ages, these stripes become smaller and more spread out. Over time, they more closely resemble tiny spots and irregular markings.
However, what really makes this lizard stunning is its brightly-colored tail. Because it is not a sexually dimorphic species, both male and female ashy geckos have beautifully vibrant tails. They are usually either fiery red or cool blue in color. Sadly, like the aforementioned juvenile striping pattern, this funky neon tail color also becomes much more subdued when the geckos reach adulthood.
Though native to Cuba and Hispaniola, the ashy gecko was introduced to South Florida in the 1920s. The species still thrives there today, thanks to the state’s borderline tropical climate. It currently has two subspecies, one of which has also been introduced to and established well in Florida.
These highly arboreal geckos are small and lightweight at only around 3 inches long. Thanks to their small size, diurnal nature, attractive coloration, and fairly mild-mannered temperament, ashy geckos have become more popular in the exotic pet trade in recent years.
7. Bibron’s Thick-Toed Gecko (Chondrodactylus bibronii)
The Bibron’s thick-toed gecko can easily hide from its natural predators with some clever camouflage.
©iStock.com/Willem Van Zyl
Named after French herpetologist Gabriel Bibron, the Bibron’s thick-toed gecko is also sometimes simply known as the Bibron’s gecko or Bibron’s sand gecko. It is native to southern African countries like Namibia and South Africa. However, like most of the other geckos on this list, it has also been introduced to the US.
Currently, the Bibron’s gecko’s largest populations are located in South Florida. As a highly arboreal and nocturnal species, it spends much of its days silently camouflaged amongst the dense foliage in the hot, humid forests it typically inhabits. At night, it wakes up to hunt, with its massive pupils expanding to take in every last bit of light. Its night vision is exceptional.
The Bibron’s gecko is one of the larger and bulkier lizards on this list. It’s also one of Florida’s largest geckos in general! Adult geckos usually reach 6 to 8 inches long, with females being smaller than the males of the species. Its mottled grey, brown, and black coloration closely resemble tree bark. As its name suggests, its toes are very thick and strong, making them perfect for climbing.
8. White-Spotted Wall Gecko (Tarentola annularis)
The white-spotted wall gecko is native to Africa, but it also now lives in Florida, California, and Arizona.
Also sometimes known as the ringed wall gecko, the white-spotted wall gecko’s original home is in northern Africa. It has especially large native populations in countries like Egypt and Ethiopia. It’s unknown exactly when or how humans introduced these geckos to the United States. We do know, however, that the species has established itself not only in Florida but also in California and Arizona.
True to its name, the white-spotted wall gecko is mostly light yellowish-tan with lots of tiny, irregular white spots. The lizard’s belly and feet are also very light yellow or white in color. The scales on its tail are slightly keeled outward, giving it a spiky appearance.
As another one of the larger geckos on this list, the white-spotted gecko typically reaches around 6 to 8 inches in length. Males are usually longer and heavier than females and also have slightly wider heads.
If you stumble upon one of these geckos in the wild, be sure to observe it from a safe distance. White-spotted geckos tend to be somewhat aggressive when threatened and will bite defensively if handled.
9. Flat-Tailed House Gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus)
Hailing all the way from East Asia, the flat-tailed house gecko is here to stay in Florida.
This long, slender gecko is also sometimes known as the Asian house gecko, as its native habitats are primarily in southeastern Asia. Just like nearly every other lizard listed here, the species has been introduced to South Florida.
In terms of size, this gecko is somewhere in the middle. The average flat-tailed house gecko is around 4 to 6 inches in length. Its tail and body are rather thin and flat as its name suggests. Its body color is primarily light grey with mottled tan, brown, and dark grey markings. These markings provide the lizard with subtle camouflage, as it blends in perfectly with tree bark and leaf litter.
Interestingly, this species has become popular in the pet trade, particularly amongst beginner reptile hobbyists looking for a low-maintenance scaly companion. Although they don’t tolerate handling well, flat-tailed house geckos are inexpensive, have simple care requirements, and can live comfortably in fairly small enclosures.
Because of its similar appearance and size to other house geckos, such as the Mediterranean and tropical house geckos, it often is confused with those species and vice versa.
10. Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko)
The Tokay gecko’s vivid coloration and pattern make it stand out.
To close out our list of Florida’s most incredible geckos, meet the bizarrely neon-colored and notoriously disagreeable tokay gecko. Amusingly, the species’ common name comes from its loud, cackling “To-kay!” mating call, which males often use to seek out female mates.
This stunningly vibrant lizard is originally native to much of the Middle East and Asia, primarily in countries like India, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Of course, it also has established substantial populations in South Florida and Hawaii. However, in both of these non-native areas, the tokay gecko is threatened by habitat loss.
In terms of appearance, the Tokay gecko is large, beautiful, and surprisingly intimidating for a mere lizard! Its massive, bulging eyes, neon orange, blue coloration, and a wide mouth full of tiny, sharp teeth make it quite the force to be reckoned with. Adult Tokay geckos typically reach 10 to 12 inches long, with some individuals exceeding 15 inches! Currently, it is the third-largest gecko in the world.
Though nocturnal and reclusive, tokays are extremely territorial, aggressive, and easily agitated. It also has an incredibly strong, painful bite! Despite its grouchy nature, it has become somewhat popular in the exotic pet trade amongst expert reptile keepers.
Summary Of The 10 Geckos In Florida
|Reef Gecko (Sphaerodactylus notatus)
|Tropical House Gecko (Hemidactylus mabouia)
|Ocellated Gecko (Sphaerodactylus argus)
|Madagascar Giant Day Gecko (Phelsuma grandis)
|Yellow-Headed Gecko (Gonatodes albogularis)
|Ashy Gecko (Sphaerodactylus elegans)
|Bibron’s Thick-Toed Gecko (Chondrodactylus bibronii)
|White-Spotted Wall Gecko (Tarentola annularis)
|Flat-Tailed House Gecko (Hemidactylus platyurus)
|Tokay Gecko (Gekko gecko)
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Untung Sarmawi/Shutterstock.com
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